Compassionate Listening: The Ultimate Listening Skill

Compassion (noun): Sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Compassionate listening, which is often referred to as mindful or empathetic listening, can absolutely change how you connect to others. In our previous blog post, we talked about the three levels of listening. Think of compassionate listening as the fourth level – the ultimate level of listening.

The revered monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, talks about the power of compassionate listening in this 3-minute video, which is very much worth your time:

Use compassionate listening when someone is struggling. Maybe their spouse had a mental breakdown, their mother is dying or their child is addicted to drugs. All you do is listen. You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to think of the next great thing to say. You simply focus on them.

As you’re listening, you are giving them space to figure things out. You are not figuring it out for them, judging or offering solutions. You are allowing them to express themselves. Through that act of expressing their pain, anguish or challenge, you are letting them release.

During compassionate listening, body language is important. Face them and make eye contact. Uncross your arms and show a relaxed openness. Lean in a bit to show that you are engaged, respectful and understanding.

This is work! Even though it’s “just” listening, it requires effort. But it is absolutely worthwhile and one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Try it this week. Set aside time to listen to someone in your life who is struggling. Listen, and notice what happens. Then…try it again with someone you work with and then again.