Empathic listening skills will make you a better communicator

As a life coach empathic listening is one the most important skills I can offer to my clients. Being able to truly listen to what people say and being able to understand what they think and how they feel will enable me to ask the right questions; helping my clients get insight and make the necessary changes they are looking for. Empathic listening is essential for any coaching process.

When people talk about personal development they often say they want to improve things like self-confidence, communication skills or how to set goals efficiently. But what is often overlooked is being able to listen to others, empathic listening; listening to truly understand. Quite some people forget this, maybe thinking this it is not important, but to me it is one of the most essential parts of my own personal effectiveness.

Communication with others, learning to speak is important but without learning to listen first we will not make any progress and are setting ourselves up for miscommunication and misunderstandings. If you want to be a better communicator you should learn the art of effective listening.

There are two ways of listening, listening to others and listening to ourselves. Both are ways of emathic listening and both are important:

Listening to others

Being able to truly listen to others enables us to interpret what is being said and meant by them. We do this by listening to the words they speak, their tone of voice and paying attention to their body language. This means we have to listen fully consciously to what is being said, and give others enough time to talk.

Often we listen to others just waiting to take over the conversation at every possible opportunity without waiting, and listening, till they are finished talking. Without listening and understanding first you cannot add anything meaningful to the conversation as you are only trying to control it. Communication is a two-way process. This is what I mean with empathic listening.

We also have to be aware of our own interpretation as all information entering our brain is being filtered by our own sub-conscious mind, see take charge by making conscious decisions. It is always wise to give short feedback to the other person of what you think is being said and then ask if yours is the correct interpretation. Unfortunately, we cannot read the mind of others so we need to ask if our interpretation is the right one.

When you do this you will see that your communication skills will improve dramatically. Good and empathic listening skills will make you a better communicator.

Listening to ourselves

So far we discussed how to listen to others, but what about listening to ourselves? We often neglect our own inner voice, our intuition. Humans have a build in guiding system, our feelings, so why not use it? Why not use it for empathic listening to ourselves. What’s good for us usually generates a happy or positive feeling while things that are bad for us will result in negative ones. But how often do we allow ourselves to feel and act accordingly?

Listening to ourselves means we have to listen to the signals our body is giving us. Trust our gut feeling so to say. When you are tired and have a headache, what do you do? Take a pill and continue working, or do you listen to your body and take some rest?

As mentioned in find inspiration from the power of doing nothing we need to set aside plenty of time to be silent, for the signal to come through. We also need to get out of our head and make contact with our body, to feel it. Only then, when our inner voice shuts down, can we get inspired, can we feel what our body is telling us.

Parenting advice to keep your relationship alive

My little girl Rosanne is now 3 years old. I remember holding her in my arms for the first time as if it was yesterday. Time really goes fast and she is now a gorgeous, happy toddler whom enriched my live in many ways: I enjoy every single moment with her. She keeps me young and is in many ways my teacher, see feel like a child, be a child. Sigrid, my wife, and I love her very much, however, as most parents we soon discovered that having children has its impact on our free time and especially our relationship. Parenting is hard work, at the end of the day we often feel tired, worn-out and sometimes feel guilty we didn’t spend time together.

Before Rosanne was born we could pretty much do whatever we wanted and spend time with each other without any serious planning. If we wanted to go out for dinner or go to the movies, we went. All we had to do was get in the car and go out. If we felt like sleeping a little longer during the weekends, there was no one to wake us at 6 am. Nowadays, with a little girl running around the house, this is much more difficult. Parenting means more responsibility and we need to plan almost everything. If we want to go out, together, we need to plan for it well in advance and need to rely on grandparents and friends to babysit.

Especially when kids are young you run the risk they take over your life completely. If you don’t watch out they become the center of your attention without room for anything else. All the time and energy you have is spent on them, not on yourself or on your spouse. That’s why it’s so important to plan enough time together; otherwise you run the risk of losing each other along the way. You not only need to invest in your family, but you need to keep investing in yourself and your relationship as well.

I must admit this was a little difficult at first, but my wife and I learned to deal with it and we now plan as much time together as possible. We also make sure we plan time for ourselves. This means doing fun things together, with friends or alone, just like it was before Rosanne came into our lives. This keeps our relationship alive and fresh.

Last weekend we spent 2 nights in a little bed & breakfast in the southern part of The Netherlands. This gorgeous part of our country, southern Limburg, is close to the Belgium and German border and famous for its hospitality, good food and friendly people. As my wife’s parents had a bunch of activities planned for Rosanne we were assured Rosanne had a good time as well. If we have a good time, Rosanne deserves one too.

As with my previous vacation, see living a simple life is living a stress free life, we used this weekend to relax, do some hiking, recharge and get the stress out of our systems. The main goal of the trip was to spend time together. This was a vacation well deserved and a great success, for me and for my wife. It’s surprising how much you can recharge in just a couple of days.

Spending time as a family is important. Parenting is important. But we will continue spending time together as well, as we feel this is important too. This way we can recharge from being parents, from parenthood. This is good for us, our relationship, but for Rosanne as well as we feel she will be a happier kid when her parents are not always tired and are happy too. Sometimes being a good parent means you need to do a little less parenting. So take this parenting advice to keep your relationship alive. Make sure you have time for your children but also for each other.

Use core qualities to discover your challenges in life

In my previous article, the formula for success, I said that success is a combination of passion (the things you are passionate about and like to do), effort (determination) and talent (the qualities you have). As everyone is born with a set of talents/core qualities, or have developed them during their life, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss the core quality tool with you in this article.

The core quality tool was developed by Daniel Ofman and can be used to discover, and give tremendous insight, in who you are and what your core qualities, pitfalls, challenges and allergies are in life. Core qualities can be made visible in a core quadrant. Let’s have a look at the example below:

In this example I used one of my own core qualities: Modesty. Let’s examine this a bit further. When I am too modest I run the risk to become invisible; which is my pitfall. The positive opposite of being invisible is to present oneself, which I know I need to develop more; this is my challenge. People who present themselves too much are arrogant; this is one of my main allergies. I know I am very allergic to arrogant people. People who are arrogant trigger me to act invisible, my pitfall. Once I have developed my challenge, to present myself more, I have the dual quality to modestly present myself, which is a positive combination of my core quality and my challenge. 

Let’s do another one: Another allergy I have are people who are negative all the time. Being an optimist myself, most of the times I look at things and events in my life with the glass is half full mentality. When I am too optimistic about something I can get a little naïve; my pitfall. My challenge is that I need to be more alert of people who might hurt me. To be optimistically aware is my main goal here.

The real beauty with core qualities, and creating your own core quadrants, is that they can give tremendous insight in your own qualities and challenges in life. When working with core qualities myself I had various ‘Aha!’ moments. These were real moments of insight and I will remember them for the rest of my life. I now have the power to identify and work with my challenges.

For example: If people often tell you that you are too fanatic about something you can be sure they are referring to one of your pitfalls; a too much of one of your core qualities: dedication. If you are conscious enough you can now work on your challenge; to be helpful and have more compassion. If you can develop this you can be a dedicated helper. Wouldn’t that be a great?

If you have read my article learn about yourself from the people you resent you should now know that there is much to learn from the people you are allergic to. The core quadrant model explains why; the allergy you have for someone’s behavior is always a too much of something you need to develop yourself: your challenge in life. This puts the people you resent or those who you are allergic to in a whole different perspective, as they are helping you to indentify your challenge in life.

The formula for success

If you read this blog you will find many articles about the secret to happiness, how to find your passion and the definition of success. I believe that following ones passion is one of the main ingredients that leads to a successful and happy life. But is following your passion all you need to do to be successful? Could it be that easy? Passion alone will get you far but it’s not enough. More things are needed to be successful. Let’s examine the three main components, passion, talent and effort: The formula for success.


First you need passion. Here’s my definition of passion: Things you are passionate about go with ease, joy and fulfillment. They give you energy. Things you are not good at cause stress and resistance. You feel tired doing them. For me passion is everything, it’s what keeps me going, without passion I cannot be creative or do anything new or do it with a fresh mind.


Talent is the second ingredient. Passion alone can get you far, but without the necessary talent there is a good chance you will not succeed.

Everyone is born with a set of talents or core qualities. These are the skills we are naturally good at. For example I am a good listener; this is one of my main qualities and I can use this skill, this talent, for empathic listening while conducting my coaching sessions. I didn’t have to go through days of training to develop it, it is natural to me.

Suppose you have a passion for football, you’re nuts about the game. Without the necessary talent you probably will not get beyond amateur level, with the talent you can reach the top.

The good thing about talent is that it is something you can develop. Of course if you have zero talent to play the piano you will never be a great pianist. But someone with moderate talent, enough passion and determination can make it pretty far.


Effort is the third success factor. If you never put in the effort and try you will not succeed; if you don’t try hard enough you will fail. Most successful people have one thing in common: they don’t give up, they are determined to succeed. Failure doesn’t exist for them. When things don’t work out, they will try again and again till they succeed.

The formula for success

So now it’s time to combine these three success ingredients together into the formula for success:

Success = Passion * Talent * Effort

All three are important. Passion will give you the energy to start, to keep going. You need talent to stand out above the rest. Effort is the final ingredient. You can be passionate about something, have enough talent, but you need to be determined and put in the effort to make it all work. If you leave something out, whether it is passion, talent or effort; success is difficult, if not impossible.

But if you can use your passion for something, align it with one or more of your talents and are determined to make it work, it is very difficult to fail. You will see something magical happening: You have found the formula for success.

Make a difference and make people smile

Making a difference is easier than most people think. You don’t have to write a book or be someone important to make a real difference in this world. Every one of us has the power to make a difference and you can start right here, right now to contribute something positive and make a change. All it takes is to make people smile.

Suppose you have a lousy day at work, nothing works the way you planned it, you’re a bit grumpy and when you’re about to leave the office you notice your car has a flat tire. Wouldn’t it be nice if, at that moment, one of your colleagues or a stranger offered a helping hand? My guess is that this gesture, this offer to help, would make the situation less worse. It may even bring a smile on your face for the first time that day.

This is what I do: I make it a conscious effort to do something for someone, bring a smile on their face. I make the effort to do this at least once a day. This could be a colleague, a friend, a family member, someone working in a store or a total stranger. It doesn’t matter; I do someone a favor or make them smile out of kindness without expecting something in return. This could be as simple as saying two simple words: Thank you. You would be surprised how many people forget to thank others. This alone can make a huge difference.

The beauty of helping others, even with a small gesture, is that you’re not only helping them, but you have the ability to touch the lives of others as well. When you say thank you to someone, appreciate a service or offer your assistance, you send positive energy to them so to speak. This energy will impact them, hopefully change their mood for the better, and this mood will impact others around them as well. This is a kind of butterfly effect that eventually will affect everyone on this planet and may find its way back to you at a moment you’re least expecting it.

When I came back from my New York City trip, last year, I bought a present at the airport for Rosanne my 3 year old daughter with the dollars I had left in my pocket. Counting all the coins I came 90 cents short of the total amount I needed to pay. The lady at the counter suddenly offered the remaining coins out of her own tipping money. This was a very nice gesture from her and after our encounter I left NYC with a feeling that certainly not everyone in NYC has The New York Attitude as I originally thought before I made the trip. Her kindness and that of others in New York made a huge difference.

Helping others, making a difference by making others smile, isn’t it something new. This advice has been around for thousands of years and you will find it in most personal development books or sites on the internet. So why did I make the effort to mention it one more time? Well, being nice to people is something we forget too easily. Sometimes we need a reminder of the simple things, the simple truths that have the most effect on us and the people around us.

I encourage you to follow my advice, make a difference and make people smile. Spread the word to your friends and colleagues so they can do the same. Go the extra mile and don’t take things for granted; do someone a favor without expecting something in return. Appreciate people for the service they offer, thank them. Help people who need directions. Help them without them knowing you did something for them. Make it a conscious effort to make a difference in the life of one person. Helping only one person is all it takes to make a difference in the world.

Change your perspective change your life

As a life coach, giving insight in how people see the world and how they think is one of my main goals while working with clients. By asking the right questions the client is forced to think and feel, sometimes for the first time, how he sees himself and the world around him. Where he, until recently, was unknown of what drives him, he can now see the bigger picture. This seemingly simply process is a very powerful tool as knowing oneself is the first step towards lasting change and true conscious living. I believe that true change comes from within and will not work if people tell us how to change. We need to experience it for ourselves to make change last.

Most articles I write on this blog are about the way how we look at the things, people and events in our life. Through my writing I’m inviting, sometimes challenging, you to broaden your perspective and maybe change your views on how you see the world around you. One of the conditions for successful change in our lives is that we need to have the right perspective, or at least know what our perspective is. We need to know what is really going on inside ourselves and around us.

So what is the right perspective?

Well, to make it a bit more difficult I think there is no right perspective. There’s also no wrong perspective; only different, often limited, perspectives exist. I always compare my own perspective to what I can see, what I can observe. If I’m in a valley my sight is limited to the things that are happening on the ground. But someone who is high on top of a mountain may observe something quite different; he has a different perspective. That’s what happening in real life as well.

When we see things only from our perspective we miss a lot of detail. We may only see 50 or 30 percent, maybe less, of what is going on. But most of us think and act like we know it for the full 100 percent. The truth is that we only know it for 50 percent and the rest of it we make up in our minds; we fill in the blanks with assumptions. That’s a real issue and the cause of many misunderstandings and conflicts. Most wars have started this way. We think we are right and others are wrong. We are good, they are bad. You are either with us or against us.

If we only took the effort to look further, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we may see something quite different. We may see we’re not so different after all.

Things are never black or white. How terrible a situation may look from our perspective; that same situation may be the source of joy and happiness if we only knew the full picture. When one company goes bankrupt another one will seize the opportunity. When someone looses a friend, someone else will gain one. That colleague you dislike may be a terrific father to his children or giving large sums of money to charity.

Things are not always what they seem. What may seem unpleasant at first may be a blessing in the long run. Unless you have the full perspective it is difficult to judge any situation. That’s one of the reasons way it is so important to pass judgement with curiosity and compassion. Once we realize the limitations of our own perspective, we can start changing it. Changing the perspective on the people around us and on our self. Once we change our perspective, change the way we look at things, we will you change our lives, forever.

Pass judgement with curiosity and compassion

Have you ever tried not to pass judgement on something or someone? Not passing judgement seems a very noble, often spiritual, goal but from my own experience I can tell you that it’s very difficult. It’s in our human nature to form an opinion, and judge, on almost everything. It’s a catch 22: Either we judge, and feel bad about it, or we desperately try not to judge and feel trapped, stressed, as we cannot express our feelings.

As mentioned above, most people have an opinion about everything. Whether it’s about sports, business or politics, we think we know it all and pass judgement all the time; without knowing the relevant background or facts. One of our neighbours has a new car and we react in envy, thinking that there is no way he can pay for it. If someone is late for work we think he is a slacker. Someone is giving us feedback and we think he or she is jealous and doesn’t like us. We get fired and blame our boss, the economy or the government without knowing exactly why.

The funny thing is that if someone is passing judgement on us we view this as a bad habit, but once someone else is concerned we pass judgement all the time. Have you ever wondered why this is and why our own opinion is more important than that of others, why we apply double standards?

I guess there is a thin line between passing judgement and having your own opinion. This is how I keep them apart: When people pass judgement they usually don’t know all the facts, they presume they know. An honest opinion is based on curiosity, wanting to know how things work, wanting to know why people react the way they do. We can be wrong, but at least we made the effort to check for facts.

In one of my recent articles, stop blaming others and take control over your life, I said that once you stop blaming others you will make a major step in your personal development. When you work on your judgement towards others you will make another personal development step as well. The idea here is that you do not only think about yourself but make a conscious effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You make the effort to find out why people do and say things, why they make certain decisions. It is a step from unconscious thinking, to conscious thinking.

The idea here is not to stop passing judgement on others completely, or never have an opinion about everything. The idea is to transform it, take passing judgement to the next level. Add curiosity and compassion to your judgement and you will get something very powerful. You will still have your own opinion, but it will be based on facts, not presumptions.

Here is what I do. Whenever I catch myself passing judgement, I think to myself: Is my opinion based on facts? Could it be that someone else will look at the same situation completely different then I do? If I was standing in his or her shoes, would I do the same? Do they know all the facts? Do I? Maybe we’re both right, but see it from a different angle.

In almost all occasions I found that the situation was quite different from what I originally thought and that my first thought, my judgement has been transformed into a much better understanding of the situation. That’s the power of passing judgement with curiosity and compassion.