Of all the relationship skills, empathic listening is undoubtedly the most important. 

Defined as the activity of understanding, being aware of, and being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another, empathy enables us to understand where another person is coming from.  It requires paying attention not only to the words of another but to their feelings as well and then communicating that understanding in meaningful language.

Being empathic also involves being tuned into another’s nonverbal behavior, that is, their facial expression, tone of voice, inflections, and gestures, all of which communicate meaning.  The phrase, “Sure, I love you” can be said many ways, each of which communicates something different.  When said softly and tenderly, the phrase expresses love and affection; when said in a sarcastic tone, it communicates resentment or disingenuousness. The inflections (words being emphasized) and tone of voice express different meanings.

To understand why empathy is so important, Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a retired clinical psychologist, devotes a chapter in her recent book, “BEYOND PIPE DREAMS AND PLATITUDES: Insights on Love, Luck, and Narcissism from a Longtime Psychologist,” to the topic.

The chapter, titled “Empathy and Healthy Religion Go Hand in Hand,” describes how empathy helps us to connect emotionally to others, and as a result, feel less isolated and lonely.  In this chapter, we also learn how to express empathy in language that can be heard and felt by another person.

In Dr. Piorkowski’s book, BEYOND PIPE DREAMS AND PLATITUDES, which is a collection of eight essays, she also talks about: why we can’t control anybody, why anger is sometimes an effective tool in communication, why positive thinking is not always the answer, why vulnerable people are more likable than arrogant ones, why talent and hard work don’t always bring us the success we desire, why healthy narcissism is different from the unhealthy kind, and why we have so much trouble with romantic love.

BEYOND PIPE DREAMS AND PLATITUDES is a thought-provoking, counter-cultural reflection on human nature and behavior.  Described by Kirkus Reviews as “An intriguing and inviting series of observations on life’s motivations,” this award-winning book is written in everyday language and easy to understand.  But it challenges many of the assumptions we live with and helps us come to terms with the challenges that life frequently poses for us.

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