Empathic Responding Skills (6 Essentials for Everyone)

Here, we are going to discuss six empathic responding skills that everyone must develop for the world to be a better place. Readers will first learn about what empathic responding is. Then, we will take a closer look at six of these skills.

What are Some Empathic Responding Skills?

Empathic responding skills help show teh speaker that you are listening attentively and without judgement. A few examples of these skills are:

  • Listening to Understand; Not Listening to Respond
  • Avoiding Jumping to Solutions
  • Building a Vocabulary for Feelings
  • Being Self-Aware
  • Summarising and Paraphrasing
  • Being Comfortable with Silence

What is Empathic Responding?

Empathy is a crucial step in building the trust between a speaker and a listener. Without empathy, the speaker will feel disconnected, misunderstood, or even judged, regardless of whether they are actually being judged.

Empathic responding helps create a safe space within a conversation that allows one to express freely. This security of being heard also allows the speaker to reflect on what lessons can be learnt from the information being shared.

One is able to accept themselves, feel validated, and arrive at solutions rather than clamming up and feeling isolated.

6 Empathic Responding Skills for Everyone

In this section, we will describe in more detail 6 empathic responding skills that can help everyone.

Listening to Understand; Not Listening to Respond

You might have often experienced firsthand how so many people only listen so they can say something in response. Before we have even heard the entire message of the speaker, we tend to hang on to one aspect and wait for our turn to speak about it.

This is counterproductive to communication as it hinders empathy and understanding. Instead, a better way to listen is to make a note of whatever point grabbed your attention and then let it rest.

Then, bring back your attention to the speaker and switch on all your senses. All your sense organs should be focussed on the listener again so that you continue understanding what they’re trying to say.

Listening to understand is easier said than done. But with conscientious efforts and practice, it makes you a much safer person to talk to.

Avoiding Jumping to Solutions

Very often when listening to a loved one talk about their problems, we tend to feel protective of them. Consequently, we might jump right into advice giving and solution finding. Even though our intentions are good, this can discourage the speaker to open up.

Despite having answers that make sense to us, it’s important to allow the speaker to pace their reaction. It’s likely that their current need is not to fix the issue but simply process it. They will get to the solution stage at their own time.

By avoiding talking about solutions immediately, we allow the speaker to express their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, simply doing so gives them a chance to work out the solutions themselves.

Building a Vocabulary for Feelings

There are countless feelings that come with the experience of life, many of which cannot be described by words. However, it is imperative to have a vocabulary for the feelings that can be described for anyone to be a good listener.

Some descriptions consist of only one word, such as devastated, perplexed, exhausted, etc. Others are a bit more detailed phrases like, “a heaviness of the chest” or “a pit in my stomach”.

By using such terms to describe a feeling, we can help the speaker feel less isolated. They’ll also be able to make and intangible thing more concrete. Consequently, dealing with it will seem less of a mystery.

Being Self-Aware

All good listeners have developed the skill of self-awareness. It is impossible to listen empathically without having any prejudices, biases, traumatic memories, or opinions pop up. After all, we all are our own person.

The more you know about your preferences and tendencies, the better able you will be to judge when you are getting triggered by hearing someone speak. Only when you can identify your trigger can you deal with it.

This entire process is a precursor for anyone to put aside their subjective experience and truly listen selflessly. Journaling, self-care, and therapy are some effective ways to build self-awareness.

Summarising and Paraphrasing

One of the most popular skills that they teach for empathic responding is the ability to restate what the speaker just said. Summarising and paraphrasing are two listening tools used for this.

Summarising, as the name suggests, is when the listener sums up a gist of what the speaker was saying. This gives both parties an opportunity to clear misunderstandings and it also helps the speaker feel like they’ve been paid attention to.

Paraphrasing is a similar tool in which the listener repeats what was said in their own words. Both tools are extremely useful in practicing empathy through listening.

Being Comfortable with Silence

In all meaningful conversations, there are moments when silence is the best response. These moments typically come when an important revalation is to be or has been made. Other occasions are when some ideas need to be mulled over.

When this happens, speaking may interrupt the natural course of the interaction. People tend to blurt out something unnecessary just to avoid the awkwardness of silence. However, one must develop the skill of knowing when to keep shut.

Nevertheless, there is no script for empathic listening so it’s not possible to tell you when to stay silent. Instead, this skill develops over time with experience. You’ll know just by reading body language when you need to pause for reflection.


Here, we discussed six empathic responding skills that everyone must develop for the world to be a better place. Readers first learned about what empathic responding is. Then, we took a closer look at six of these skills.

The empathic responding skills described here were Listening to Understand; Not Listening to Respond, Avoiding Jumping to Solutions, Building a Vocabulary for Feelings, Being Self-Aware, Summarising and Paraphrasing, and Being Comfortable with Silence.

FAQs (Empathic Responding Skills)

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to feel and understand another person’s experience. It’s different from sympathy because you don’t feel sorry for someone’s suffering. Instead, you’re able to put yourself in their position and attempt to feel what it is like for them.

What are some skills required to show empathy?

If you want to show empathy, you must work on developing the following skills first:

  • Genuine interest in others
  • Active listening
  • Self-awareness
  • Reading body language
  • Non-violent communication
  • Giving and taking feedback
  • Healthy boundaries

What are the five strategies for empathic listening?

Below are listed the cardinal five strategies for empathic listening:

  • Listening without interruption
  • Allowing silences
  • Being non-judgemental
  • Showing attunement
  • Summarising and paraphrasing