Listen with empathy

AB Boyd | Cartoonist

As you listen to your professor lecture, do you find your mind wandering to unrelated subjects like the errands on your checklist or another course?

As you hear friends tell you about their days, do you start composing a narrative in your head for when they finish talking?

As you listen to someone with a differing political opinion, do you structure your rebuttal to the argument you assume they are making rather than listening to what they have to say?

If you answered yes to any of these, or if you have noticed yourself doing similar things when you listen to another person talking, you are not actually listening. You are just pretending to listen.

In our increasingly polarized society, even casual disagreements can digress into heated, friendship-ending arguments.

Although many claim to be listening to their opponents’ arguments, they are either planning out what they will say in response, spacing-out because they believe they know the argument or drifting off and thinking about something completely irrelevant.

The Baylor Lariat’s editorial board encouraged its audience to listen with their ears instead of their mouths in an editorial published in September 2018. Two years later, and people still aren’t listening to each other.

And a lack of empathetic, mindful or even active listening is the culprit.

Active listening requires the listener to observe, interpret, understand and paraphrase the message being said. It involves listening with all your senses. Noticing the speaker’s body language, facial expressions and posture as well as the words coming from their mouth.

Empathetic listening, which is often associated with active listening, brings in the element of empathy. It is listening with empathy which is the ability to understand the feelings of another person. The difference between sympathy and empathy is that empathy is feeling as if you were that person as opposed to sympathy which is just feeling for someone.

To complicate it even more, mindful listening builds off of active and empathetic listening. You must listen one-mindfully, empathetically and non-judgmentally. Judgment, of those who oppose you as well as oneself, is a giant road block in the way of compromise. You not only avoid judging the speaker but also yourself when you notice yourself getting distracted from the situation at hand.

Mindfulness — which mindful listening branches off from — is a state of active, open and focused attention to the present. It is “described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad,” according to Psychology Today’s basics on mindfulness.

All three of these types of listening, practiced alone or together, elevate your communication skills. Aspects of these concepts should be implemented in your everyday lives because it helps all forms of communication other than arguments.

When you daydream or plan ahead during a conversation, you are not giving the speaker the respect they deserve. Even if someone’s opinions are different from yours, let them speak before you talk over them. By talking over someone else, you are making that behavior a norm and sooner or later someone else will cut you off in return.

So listen when someone else speaks. Listen the way you would want to be listened to. There is nothing constructive about yelling your opinions at each other and not taking the time to listen.

Even if you cannot empathize with someone who has different opinions than you, you can at least sympathize. Imagine what that person has experienced and how it shaped the way they thought. Imagine everything that person went through today and everything that brought them to the place they are now — disagreeing with you.

No matter the disagreement, your opposer has reasoning behind their argument. Even if you believe their logic is flawed or wrong, you won’t be able understand them or change their mind until you understand their reasoning.

Just remember to be mindful and respectful of others’ opinions. Listen with empathy and be kind.