A description of a conversation will illustrate how to use empathy and listening skills to foster good relationships, emotional intimacy, happy marriages, and psychological hugs.

Before you begin reading this description, consider getting oriented to this six-page website by first reading its Home Page, titled Empathy, Listening Skills, and Relationships. Then read Empathy and Listening Skills – Introduction.

If you have not read or choose not to read Empathy and Listening Skills – Introduction now, then you need the following information: I, Lawrence J. Bookbinder, Ph.D., use the term “listening skills” to include both listening and acknowledging what was heard or understood.

The conversation involves two women in their twenties. However, the method of empathy and listening skills could be used in a conversation between a wife and husband or between any two people in which one of them is talking about something important to her or him.


Participants   oooooooo

Tanya and Anita, who have a good relationship, meet for lunch one Friday after not having talked with each other for two months.

(Their conversation may be easier to follow if you think of the “T” in Tanya as also being the first letter in Talker and the “A” in Anita as the first letter in Acknowledger. And notice that descriptions of the acknowledger/listener’s activities are enclosed in brackets.)


Delight   oooooooo

“I saw Ben yesterday,” Tanya says. “You remember Ben? I told you about him last time.”

“Sure. You met him a month before our last lunch and found him attractive.”

“That’s right,” Tanya says, eyes sparkling. “Since then I’ve learned that he’s good for me. We’ve been seeing a lot of each other lately and getting close. I’m excited!”

As Tanya begins to pour out the details of her recent experiences with Ben, Anita says to herself, I was going to tell her about my super vacation plans but this relationship sounds really important to her. I’ll wait and listen to her news first.[suppresses the impulse to talk]

Five minutes later, Tanya concludes with her announcement “Last Tuesday he told me he loved me” followed by her exclamation “I couldn’t believe it!”

After using empathy and listening skills for the entire time without saying a word, Anita says “Wow!” [acknowledges Tanya feeling overwhelmed by Ben’s declaration of love]

“I still can’t believe it,” Tanya says. “I didn’t know what to say and I still don’t know what to tell him.”

“I don’t understand. Did he expect you to say how you felt about him?” [requests clarification]


Distress   oooooooo

“I didn’t think so but I wanted to say something and yet I didn’t want to,” Tanya says. “I’m confused.” Her face changes from pink to pale and she stops talking.

“It’s hard for you to talk about this.”[acknowledges]

“I didn’t think it would be so hard but I do want to tell you. I, uh, I feel strongly about Ben.” She struggles to say more but again stops, and her face turns paler.

After waiting ten seconds, Anita says “And what else?” She then resumes being quiet and waits for Tanya to regain her ability to speak. [encourages Tanya to continue]


Effects of Empathy and Listening Skills   oooooooo

Sixty more seconds pass and then Tanya’s jaw tightens as she says, “I want to tell you how I really feel about him. He’s a wonderful man and I’m, uh, I’m very fond of him.” She pauses. “I’m more than fond of him. I, uh, I, uh, I love him. There, I finally said it. Whew!”

As she listens to Tanya open up emotionally, Anita responds to the emerging emotional intimacy between them with a lump in her throat and a warm feeling in her chest. She gulps, pauses to collect her thoughts, and softly says, “It’s hard for you to talk about your love for Ben.” [acknowledges]

“Definitely. After Tuesday, I decided that the next time I saw him I would tell him how I felt about him. Well, the next time came and I still couldn’t tell him. There must be something seriously wrong with me.”

“You’re saying that no matter how hard you try, you can’t tell him you love him, and you feel awful about yourself because you can’t.” [acknowledges]

“Right!” Tanya says. “I’ve been keeping it to myself and becoming terribly upset about it. I’m glad I told you because you didn’t criticize me for not speaking up. Your understanding touches me.” Her face relaxes and begins to regain its color.

With affection in her eyes and gentleness in her voice, she says, “I feel better. Thanks for letting me talk.”

“Glad to do it,” Anita says. Her face brightens as she says, “Now I want to tell you about a two-week vacation in Cape Cod I’m planning. I can’t wait to go!” Then she leans forward and delightedly describes her plans to Tanya, who, because of no longer being upset, is able to listen attentively.


Conclusions   oooooooo

Anita’s use of empathy and listening skills results in both her and Tanya experiencing emotional intimacy and a strengthening of their good relationship.

The possible effects of using empathy and listening skills would be the same if the conversation participants were, say, a wife and husband–an experience of emotional intimacy and the development or maintenance of a good relationship and/or a happy marriage.

To understand why the use of empathy and listening skills sometimes stimulates one’s conversation partner to feel hugged, read the Empathy and Listening Skills – Psychological Hugs page next.