Empathetic listening, the essence of good leadership communication

The first thing in being a good communicator is to be able to listen. Truly listen, and not just listen physically, but with your whole body.

In leadership listening with empathy is how you develop trust. When one notices a drop in the listening, or the leader’s attention being occupied with something else, seeds of mistrust start creeping in subconsciously. 

The fear of being judged the barrier that blocks active communication. When one is afraid of being judged, one doesn’t want to share anything, and it leads to no communication. Research has shown that when leaders become adept at empathetic listening, they increase their performance by 40%. 

What is empathetic listening?

Empathetic listening goes a bit further than active listening as it includes the entire person. For e.g., observing the body language is part of empathetic listening by using one’s eyes. Then using one’s heart to listen. Neuro linguistics shows that we listen through our hearts, ears, and eyes. 

The importance of listening with your heart needs to be highlighted. It actually means feeling what the speaker is feeling during the communication.

To do this it’s necessary for us to become aware how we listen. For e.g., in a conversation, if one has an agenda and wants to make a point, then chances are one is not either actively listening nor being empathetic as the focus is on trying to speak one’s point. 

This is a key point of difference between great leaders and good leaders. Great leaders are able to use empathy to see the point of view of the speaker and use that to engage meaningfully. Thus, enhancing the communication. 

A benefit of empathetic listening is that it often helps the speaker, who might be seeking answers, to find what they are searching for in that conversation. Having the skill to listen always helps. Especially in the circumstances we have all experienced. As a leader, cultivating this leads to better engagement and performance.

Unfortunately though, it feels as if empathy is on the decline. It’s coming about due to technology now being the primary means of communication, instead of physical person to-person communication. 

When a leader practices empathetic listening, by physically giving time to team members, it helps create an environment of safety for those team members. That strengthens the relationship, impacting trust and performance as well as it making the person speaking, feel appreciated. 

About the author, Ross

Behavioural leadership coach committed to bringing more soul into business and reducing a leader's stress in managing their people


  1. Edwin Rutsch on 04/01/2021 at 11:02 AM

    A good way to learn and deepen empathic listening is to take part in an Empathy Circle.

    An Empathy Circle is a structured dialogue process that effectively supports meaningful and constructive dialogue. The basic process can be fairly easily learned in about 15 minutes and it is a life long practice to deepen. An Empathy Circle increases mutual understanding and connection by ensuring that each person feels fully heard to their satisfaction. The practice is the most effective gateway practice for learning, practicing and deepening listening and empathy skills, as well as, nurturing an empathic way of being.

    • Ross Swan on 04/01/2021 at 11:12 AM

      Thanks Edwin will take a look

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