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Seven Blockers to Empathetic Listening and Better Presentations

seven blockers to empathetic listening: mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, daydreaming, advising, judging, and condescending.  The first E in FINESSE stands for empathy. Are you Communicating with FINESSE?
seven blockers to empathetic listening: mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, daydreaming, advising, judging, and condescending.

Having empathy is difficult, yet it is essential for better presentations and effective communication. Empathy is both a learned skill and a natural ability (just ask my dog). Self-awareness is important if you are to improve by learning. This article provides seven blockers to empathetic listening.

Empathy Is Difficult

Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another, either the past or present, without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner (Merriman-Webster).

So, empathy is an action that involves vicariously experiencing another person and not having the specific experiences the other person has had. Empathy is difficult.

Empathy is both a learned skill and a natural ability. Cultivating empathy requires active effort and practice. On the other hand, my dog reminds me every day when I come home that, somehow, he relates to how I feel without being me or knowing what I do when I am away.

Empathy is Required for Effective Communication

Linear communication is the most basic of the three major communication concepts. Linear communication requires a message, a sender, and a receiver. The burden of effective communication in a linear model is on the sender, not the receiver.

Most of our communication to senior management or any decision maker is linear. We work for them, they beckon us when they need our specialized input, and they tell us when to leave (feedback and follow-up rest in their hands).

Being an effective communicator requires us to have empathy for them. We must put ourselves in their shoes. And their shoes, not ours, are all that matters in their decision making. Empathy is difficult.

Seven Blockers to Empathetic Listening

These are a few tips from Bento Leal on becoming an empathetic listener with a few of my observations.

1. Mind Reading

Thinking you already know what someone is thinking and saying leads to misunderstandings and miscommunications. It is important to understand that each person has their own unique perspective and experiences, which can influence how they communicate and interpret things. It also leads to a closed-minded approach to problem-solving.

2. Rehearsing

Pre-establishing your response is not really listening. Rather than pre-establishing your response, take the time to understand their message, consider alternative viewpoints, and respond thoughtfully and respectfully. Practice, yes. When it is game time, simply react.

3. Filtering

Selective listening, or hearing only what you want to hear, is a source of miscommunication and great disrespect. This can damage relationships and make it difficult to communicate effectively and problem-solve.

4. Daydreaming

Daydreaming is thinking of other things when someone is talking to you. Daydreaming shows a lack of caring and demonstrates disrespect. It is also one of the easiest things to notice when talking to someone else. If you cannot focus, be direct and tell the speaker you are struggling.

5. Advising

Jumping in with unsolicited suggestions or solutions is perhaps the greatest barrier to developing rapport. Always start by asking a question, even if you know (or think you know) the answer.

6. Judging

Analyzing, critiquing, or contesting what the speaker is saying. Like advising, you are better off asking questions and avoiding commenting.

7. Condescending

When you override or put down, you express to the speaker that your perspective is more important. Being condescending is the worst form of judging. And most forms of unasked advice are taken as being condescending. Avoid it.

Become an Empathetic Listener

These are a few steps you can take to become an empathetic listener.

1. Focus

Put away other activities and focus on the speaker and their message.

2. Listen actively

Give the person your undivided attention.

3. Care

Show that you understand and care about their emotions.

4. Avoid judgment

Resist the urge to judge the speaker.

5. Ask questions

Ask open-ended questions to encourage the person to share more about their thoughts and feelings.

6. Paraphrase

Repeat what the person has said in your own words to show that you understand. Clarify any misunderstandings with questions (avoid being seen as judgmental).

7. Validate feelings

Let the speaker know you understand why they might be feeling that way.

8. Provide support

Let the speaker know that you are there to help in any way you can.

A separate article at Communicating with FINESSE provides six preparation tips for preparing and delivering your next big business presentation.

Applying It with FINESSE

The key to empathetic listening is to make the decision maker feel understood. This article provides seven blockers to empathetic listening: mind reading, rehearsing, filtering, daydreaming, advising, judging, and condescending. Becoming an effective presenter requires empathetic listening that allows you to connect with others, understand their emotions and perspectives, and respond in a helpful way.

The first E in FINESSE stands for empathy.


Communicating with FINESSE is the community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.


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