(Salem 2003)

Title: The Benefits of Empathic Listening
Author: Richard Salem
Date: July 2003

Salem, Richard. "Empathic Listening." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/empathic-listening>.

"Empathic listening (also called active listening or reflective listening) is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It is an essential skill for third parties and disputants alike, as it enables the listener to receive and accurately interpret the speaker's message, and then provide an appropriate response. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation. Among its benefits, empathic listening"


"The power of empathic listening in volatile settings is reflected in Madelyn Burley-Allen's description of the skilled listener. "When you listen well," Burley-Allen says, "you:
  1. acknowledge the speaker,
  2. increase the speaker's self-esteem and confidence,
  3. tell the speaker, "You are important" and "I am not judging you,"
  4. gain the speaker's cooperation,
  5. reduce stress and tension,
  6. build teamwork,
  7. gain trust,
  8. elicit openness,
  9. gain a sharing of ideas and thoughts, and
  10. obtain more valid information about the speakers and the subject."[5]"


[1] Richard Salem, "Community Dispute Resolution Through Outside Intervention," Peace & Change Journal VIII, no. 2/3 (1982)

[2] William Simkin, Mediation and the Dynamics of Collective Bargaining (BNA Books, 1971)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Books on effective listening cited in this paper primarily address the topic in one-on-one situations and use examples in both personal and professional settings. Three books by Thomas Gordon all use the same communication models in a variety of settings. They are Gordon'sLeadership Effectiveness Training, (Bantam Books, 1977), Teacher Effectiveness Training, (1974), and Parent Effectiveness Training.

[5] Madelyn Burley-Allen, Listening the Forgotten Skill, (John Wiley & sons, 1982). Burley-Allen is a former president of the American Listening Assn.

[6] Lyman K. Steil, "On Listening...and Not Listening," Executive Health, (newsletter, 1981). Dr. Steil is a former president of the American Listening Assn. See also, "Effective Listening," by Steil, Barker and Watson, McGraw Hill, 1983 and "Listening Leaders," Beaver Press, forthcoming, 2003.

[7] Labor mediator Walter Maggiolo wrote that the effective mediator performs the following four essential tasks: (1) Understand and appreciate "the problems confronting the parties;" (2) Impart to the parties "the fact that the mediator knows and appreciates their problems;" (3) create "doubts in the minds of the parties about the validity of the positions they have assumed with respect to the problems;" and (4) surface or suggest "alternative approaches which may facilitate agreement." W. Maggiolo, "Techniques of Mediation," 1985.

[8] Nancy Ferrell, Oral History, Civil Rights Mediation Project, available at http://www.civilrightsmediation.org/.

[9] Ibid, 101-102.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Thomas Gordon, Leadership Effectiveness Training, (Bantam Books, 1977). See also, Thomas Gordon, Teacher Effectiveness Training(1974).