8 Ways to Be an Empathetic Listener

October 11, 2021
8 Ways to Be an Empathetic Listener

If you’re supporting a friend or family member navigating a cancer diagnosis, now more than ever you’ll need to become or evolve as an empathetic listener. We define empathetic listening as a level of active listening that enhances your relationship with others. Here are some tips to keep in mind to be an empathetic listener: 


  1. Make eye contact. Make sure that you’re not only listening to your friend or family member, but that they are aware that you’re present. Making eye contact shows that you’re their priority -- not anything else in the environment you’re in with them.

  2. Turn your phone to silent and flip it over (so you can’t see the screen). Electronics are valuable for many reasons, but when you’re trying to stay present with the cancer patient in your life, they can get in the way. Turning the phone to silent will allow you to stay focused on your friend in the moment. 

  3. Let them know you’re there for them in any way they need. In a Prevention magazine article, Melissa Fiorenza offered this helpful suggestion for what to say to someone you deeply care for: “Feel free to cry with me, to talk, or not to talk. I’ll take my lead from you.” Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just be present for your friend or loved one.  It’s OK not to know what to say, or to sit with them in silence if that’s what they need.

  4. Wait your turn. Don’t interrupt your friend. To show that you’re truly listening, it’s important to actually listen and wait for your turn to talk. Cancer can bring up a wide range of emotions in patients, so it’s important allow the patient room to express their full range of emotions. 

  5. Observe their body language. Listening isn’t just hearing the words people are saying, but also understanding the way they give other cues. If you notice something peculiar or signalling deeper stress than what they’ve admitted, try to ask questions to give them opportunities to say more. 

  6. Ask open ended questions. Do your best to engage in conversation rather than yes or no questions. But when you do use quesitons they should be open-ended ones like, “Do you want to tell me about your cancer and what you’re going through? Maybe I can find ways to be helpful.”

  7. Repeat back what they said. Reframing what they said in a way such as, “What I’m hearing is that…” will help them to know that you’ve listened and digested their words. It’ll also help you retain and stay focused with them in the present.

  8. Don’t burden the patient with your concern or distress about the situation. As an empathetic listener, it’s important to remember that your role is to listen to what the patient has to say, not to bring in your own concerns or judgments about what may be happening. Coping as a supporter or caregiver can be extremely difficult, which is why we’ve included a number of articles in our resource library about this: from coping through meditation to handling personality shifts, we’ve got answers for you. 

We know it’s hard to watch someone you love suffer in any way so hopefully these tips will allow you to be the support your loved one needs in this troubling time.

Learn More About How to Be an Empathetic Listener With OneVillage

Regardless of where you are in your cancer journey, OneVillage is here to help. OneVillage is dedicated to providing the support, information, goods, and services that cancer patients need. Whether you’re wondering how to be an empathetic listener or how to find a community of people like you, OneVillage is here. In addition to highly personalized recommendations and checklists to help you navigate your new normal, through our WishList feature we also allow supporters to contribute to a fund for  your medical trips and other expenses. If you have any further questions about what OneVillage offers and site features, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Sign-up to personalize your cancer journey – free, always.