Empathetic Listening

Listening Stance, Reflective Listening

Empathetic Listening is a conflict resolution strategy where participants ask questions, restate ideas, and reflect on the feelings of the person who is sharing about a concern or issue. As one student shares a concern, the other student demonstrates empathetic listening skills by asking clarifying questions and encouraging the other student to fully share their feelings about the issue. The focus of Empathetic Listening is not to find the solution to a problem, but to create a space where a person’s concerns are heard and validated. As the listener reflects on concerns being shared, they are better able to understand the issue and empathize with the other person. Empathetic Listening helps improve students’ social skills and build a positive classroom community by encouraging students to thoughtfully share and respond to the concerns of others.

Essential Components of Empathetic Listening:
-- Respectful: Participants are calm and treat each other with respect.
-- Open Posture: Participants face each other with arms at their side or uncrossed in their lap.
-- Clarification: The listener seeks clarification by asking questions such as “Can you tell me more about ___” or “Is that how you usually feel?”
-- Validation: The listener sincerely validates the other person’s concerns with phrases like “I appreciate that we are talking about this” or “I can understand how you could feel this way.”

Ready-to-Use Resources


I-Message Posters

A series of posters to support students’ use of I-Messages. The posters include an I-Message definition, a sentence frame for crafting I-Messages and multiple I-Message models.

Grade K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 · Behavior & SEL · 3 pages

Implementation Tips

Model Each Step
Teachers should model the components of Empathetic Listening (e.g., open posture, asking clarifying questions, restating, validating concerns, and reflecting). Provide opportunities for students to practice Empathetic Listening through role playing and other activities.
Create a Space for Conflict Resolution Conversations
A quiet place with minimal distractions helps students focus on each other and promotes Empathetic Listening. Consider designating a special corner or space in the classroom where students can have conflict resolution conversations. Anchor charts reminding students of the components of Empathetic Listening and other conflict resolution strategies can also be posted in this area.
Designate Time
Teachers may want to set aside time during the school day for students to resolve conflicts using Empathetic Listening. Having a regular time for these discussions, assures students that if a conflict arises during the day they will have dedicated time to work it out.
Remind Students to Use I-Messages
Encourage students to use I-Messages during Empathetic Listening conversations. The person sharing about an issue might begin a conversation with a statement such as, “I feel \_\_\_, when \_\_\_” or “I would like \_\_\_” When restating concerns the listener can respond by saying, “I heard you say \_\_\_."
Encourage Calm Conversations
In order to promote Empathetic Listening, it is important that participants are calm and respectful. Remind students to use self-regulation strategies such as Belly Breathing and 6-Second Pause to calm down and diffuse tension before engaging in a conflict resolution conversation.


Classroom Meetings
Empathetic Listening is a routine that can be used during classroom meetings to promote meaningful and open discussions. Empathetic Listening can be particularly helpful when a student seeks to share about an issue facing the most or all of the classroom community. For example, a couple of students might want to share about how not all students follow the rules when playing tag at recess. When sharing during the classroom meeting, the rest of the class utilizes Empathetic Listening by facing each other, asking clarifying questions, and validating the other students’ concerns. After the students have finished sharing, the teacher can invite all students to share their understanding of the rules for tag and help the class agree on a set of rules they want to use.
Peer Support Groups (Peer Buddies/Mentors)
Peer support groups provide an opportunity for students to utilize their empathetic listening skills in a small group setting. In peer support groups, students meet regularly to share about issues or concerns. During these times, students can take turns sharing while the others restate and validate their concerns. The group serves as a safe place for a student to share about challenges without being offered advice or correction. As the group utilizes Empathetic Listening techniques they encourage the person sharing to reflect more deeply on the issue and see it in a new light.
Student-Teacher Conference
Empathetic Listening can be used by both the teacher and student during a student-teacher conference when discussing student goals. For instance, during a conference a student might share that they are having difficulties staying focused during math instruction. By using an open posture and asking clarifying questions, the teacher can make the student feel comfortable and prompt him or her to reflect on why this problem is occurring. After the teacher has a strong understanding of why the student is having difficulties focusing, the teacher and student can discuss possible strategies the student can implement to address the issue.
Student-Initiated Conflict Resolution
As students gain practice in using Empathetic Listening, they can begin to initiate it themselves during conflicts with peers. For instance, while working on a project with a partner, Student A might begin to get angry and say, “I’m not doing that part!” To better understand what is prompting this response, Student B can ask Student A to share about why he is feeling that way. As Student A shares, Student B asks clarifying questions and begins to understand that Student A does not feel like the work is being divided equally. Student B can then share his concerns regarding their project while Student A demonstrates empathetic listening skills. Once the students fully understand each other, they can discuss a plan for moving forward with their project.

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