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Heartfelt Listening

Heartfelt Listening is a Connecting Skill. “Feeling apart? Listen with my heart.”


How can I listen to truly understand what someone is trying to communicate?

Heartfelt Listening means listening non-judgmentally and truly opening our hearts to what the other person is saying. Rather than focusing on problem solving, we listen wholeheartedly.

Why Heartfelt Listening — The Science

  • High-quality listening enables speakers to (a) elaborate on an event, (b) connect emotionally to it, and (c) become more self-aware.
  • High-quality listening makes speakers talk more fluently, coherently, and produce more interesting narratives. This process consequently influences speakers’ self-knowledge and memory of these narratives.
  • Experiencing high quality listening sends the speaker a signal that she is interesting and worthy of attention, thereby increasing personal growth. Furthermore, it has been shown that the non-judgmental nature of high-quality listening frees speakers from self-presentational concerns, which increases their psychological safety and reduces their social anxiety.
  • Improving empathic listening skills, in which physicians connect with empathy and optimism,  fosters a “compassionate connection” that can quicken healing
  • When people are trained to listen empathetically, they understand others better.  This type of listening takes time and is not “results-oriented” but it can change power dynamics. 


  1. Itzchakov G. Kluger A. The Listening Circle: A Simple Tool to Enhance Listening and Reduce Extremism Among Employees. Organizational Dynamics 2017 (in press).
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Rakel D. The Compassionate Connection: The Healing Power of Empathy and Mindful Listening. WW Norton & Company 2018. 
  5. Shrivastava A. Active Empathic Listening as a Tool for Better Communication. International Journal of Marketing & Business Communication 2014;3(3).

How to Practice-Model-Coach
Heartfelt Listening


  • When others are talking, listen without thinking about yourself or your own response. Take a moment to really take in what they are feeling. Notice what reciprocal feeling that creates in you. Respond to them from that feeling place. Ask them if they feel heard by what you shared.
  • When listening to others in your life, pay attention to how you are listening. Are you predicting what they are going to say or are you open and curious? Heartfelt Listening works when we can remove thinking about ourselves from the process. 
  • Think about a time when you did not hear and understand what someone else actually said. How did that impact your relationship?
  • Empathic listening:  When someone is talking with you about something painful in their life, practice heartfelt listening to understand their feelings rather than offering solutions to their problems. Any questions should be to clarify your understanding of their perspective. Sometimes being heard is all the other person needs to solve their own problems.


  • When listening to others, repeat back to them what you heard and ask them to confirm before moving forward with the conversation. If they say something particularly important but move on quickly from it, ask them to pause and note the significance of the key concept (“Let’s stop for a moment. You said that really made you sad. I am sorry you feel so sad. It is difficult when….”)
  • Digital-Free listening: When you are having a conversation, put down your phone and other digital devices and give them your full attention. This allows you to perceive the non-verbal information better and more authentically.  
  • Inquiry-based listening:  Ask deeper questions of your friends or family members, in which you really listen to what is going on with them. Suggested questions include “Can you tell me more?” or “Why is that important to you?”
  • “Rose and Thorn” Daily check-in: Each day, perhaps at a meal, ask your family members to name one thing that went well for them and one thing that could have gone better.  Spend time heartfelt listening to what is happening in their lives.


  • When communicating with others, ask them to repeat back what they heard you say. If they are struggling to listen openly from the heart, ask them to focus on not what they think you are going to say but be open to what you are saying.

Resources for Heartfelt Listening