A note from Kelly King: The subject of listening is often talked about in this category of our blog. I’ve watched Kaye Hurta not only write on the importance of listening, but I’ve seen her practice it as she helps coordinate the encouragers at many of our LifeWay Women events. I’m grateful for her encouragement to couple listening with empathy in today’s article.
Pain is isolating. When you are hurting, it is common to feel unseen and unheard. Feeling unseen and unheard in our pain compounds the feelings of isolation. When someone is in pain, we naturally want to “do” something to help them feel better, live better, think better, or cope better. There may well be practical things you can “do” to help the hurting, but the single best tool you have to help those who are hurting is this: to listen well.
In previous articles, we have looked briefly at what it means to listen well, but because it is the absolute best tool to help the hurting, a closer look will serve us well. Not only is it our best tool, but I would submit that not listening well can inflict harm.
When it comes to listening well, the very best thing we can offer one another is empathy.
According to author and therapist Shannon Plate, empathy is “the art and the skill of making the person with whom you are talking feel completely understood by taking their story (their feelings, actions, or thoughts) and showing it back to them, sometimes adding your discernment.” She goes on to say, “Empathy is not questioning, judgment, opinions, or advice. Empathy is suspending judgment.”
Recently I spent some time with Shannon and a few other leaders to learn about and practice the art of empathy. Before our time with Shannon, I would have considered myself pretty good at expressing empathy. But I soon realized I have a lot to learn. One thing I know for sure is that this is something, as a leader ministering to hurting women, I want to (we all need to) excel in. It is my conviction that women often hide their pain and the truth of their stories because at some point in their pasts they were harmed by someone else’s judgment, quick and casual advice, and inability to listen well. Will you join me in the quest to listen well? Will you join me in the passion to show empathy in every and all conversations?
If the answer is yes, then let me recommend Shannon’s book. It is called, Care Talk, Skilled Communication in Ministry. It is a short read and well worth it! Shannon is a licensed clinical professional counselor, teacher, and speaker. In her book she will teach you: how to respond to what you hear (not what you think about what you hear), how to be accessible, curious, and tenderhearted, and how to best connect via posture, orientation, and eye contact. If you are interested, you can find her book on Amazon by searching the title and her name.
Please join me in sharpening the best tool we have to help the hurting: the art of listening well that begins with empathy.
Kaye Hurta has a Masters Degree in counseling from Liberty University and is a crisis counselor for Women’s Events through LifeWay Christian Resources. Whether speaking, singing, or listening, Kaye’s passion is to help others find intimacy with Christ and soul transformation through the living pages of His Word. Kaye met and married her husband Chris in Austin, Texas in 1987. They have two daughters through the miracle of adoption, Madison and Cami. They live in the Chicago burbs where they are both on staff at Willow Creek Community Church. Kaye is also a contributing author for the LifeWay resource, Women Reaching Women in Crisis.