Empathic listening is a technique of conversation that can be rather easily developed. You might practice with a friend. Find someone to role-play with you, and ask the person to start by describing a small problem from his or her life. Your job is to role-play a client-centered approach to the conversation. That is, you will try to do the two activities involved in reflecting back: first, try to just restate the content of what your friend says. That is, repeat what the person has said, exactly as you understand it (e.g., "What I hear you saying is . . ."). The second reflecting-back action is to restate your friend's feelings. That is, take any feelings the friend mentions and state them back to him or her exactly as you understand those feelings (e.g., "It seems you are feeling . . . about this situation"). The friend will correct you or elaborate on the situation or feelings. After a few minutes, switch the roles and have your friend be the empathic listener while you describe a small problem. If done correctly, you should feel that your friend is really understanding you and that you are encouraged to explore your problem situation and your feelings about that situation.
Ever since Rogers published his classic article describing empathy as one of the necessary conditions for therapeutic change (Rogers, 1957), many psychologists have attempted to understand the nature of empathy . Are some people natural-born empathizers, or is empathy a skill that can be acquired and improved with training? A study of 839 twin pairs suggests that the ability to take the perspective of another person is not significantly heritable (Davis, Luce, & Kraus, 1994). This finding implie that people are not necessarily born with a predisposition to be good at the empathic understanding of others' points of view. Other studies have demonstrated that empathy can be taught ef fectively. For example, in one study the researchers measured empathic ability both before and after training in peer counseling (Hacher et al., 1994). They found that the training program, which emphasized listening skills, produced significant increases in overall empathy scores. The training especially helped college and high school students improve their abilities to take the perspectives of other people and understand the others' concerns. Interestingly, these researchers found that, although college women initially had higher starting levels of empathic ability , men and women were equally teachable.
In another study , empathic ability increased with practice (Marangoni et al., 1995). College students watched videotapes of three individuals under going an interview about a personal problem (e.g., a recent divorce or the dif ficulties of bein both a wife and a career woman). The researchers' hypothesis was supported; the subjects with more empathy were more accurate in their hunches about what the videotaped person was thinking and feeling, compared with the subjects who had less empathic ability. Moreover, the more practice the subjects had, the better they became at discerning what the videotaped individual was thinking and feeling. Finally, some subjects were simply better than others at empathic understanding. Even though everyone's performance could improve with practice, some subjects
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