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Listening with understanding and empathy is a part of our emotional intelligence (EQ). Researchers have shown that our EQ has a much more profound effect on success than our IQ. It is reported that 85% of success can be attributed to our human relationship skills versus 15% due to our technical knowledge. Technically speaking, “emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to perceive and express emotion accurately and adaptively, the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge, the ability to use feelings to facilitate thought, and the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and in others” (Salovey & Pizarro, 2002).
Are we born with empathy? Research have found that empathy is expressed in children as early as 12 months. Babies understand the pain and sorrow of others in some ways better than adults. Unfortunately, our busy lives and focused efforts turn our eyes away from the sorrow and pain of those around us. Fortunately, listening and understanding can be relearned and nurtured just like every other habit of mind we care about. The key is to make a conscious effort to turn off ourself and tune in to others. When we practice using our senses to look, listen, feel, ask, reach out, and speak with good purpose our empathy improves. Conversely, when we compare, judge, give unasked for advice, argue, demean, and try to read minds – we are listening with our mouths instead of our ears. Here are a few ways to help develop empathy:
  • Clear your mind of distractions.
  • Listen with context.
  • Walk in the person’s shoes before passing judgement.
  • Don’t interrupt or interject.
  • Examine your assumptions.
  • Reserve judgment and ask questions instead of providing answers.
“If you judge people, you have not time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” – Jesse Jackson
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Tips for building this asset
Positive communication also means listening to understand a young person’s perspective, not to advocate your position. Be available when young people need you—and even when they think they don’t. Take good care of yourself so when your children want to talk, you can give them your full attention.
Also try this in your home and family: Make it easy for your child to spend time talking with you: Keep an extra stool or chair in the kitchen, den, home office, or workshop area. When you’re in the car together is a great time to chat, too.
In your neighborhood and community: Ask young people you know caring questions, such as: What was the best thing about school today? What was the best act in the talent show? Why? Listen to their answers and respond accordingly.
In your school or youth program: During parent meetings, discuss the importance of positive communication between parents and children.