Listening Skills (Empathic Listening)
Home Page Image
Download MP3 files for an hour seminar on Empathic Listening Skills (when you burn CD, make sure to indicate "music CD" rather than "data CD." Click on "Download Listening Skills Seminar" above. Copies may be distributed 1) as long as they are given away and 2) the complete seminar is included. This is a public service of the University of California.

Listening First Aid

Gregorio Billikopf

[To download the complete hour seminar in MP3 format, click on the "download listening seminar" link on the yellow strip above. NOTE, a much better listening link for the complete chapter is found at]



The Panama Canal may serve as an adequate analogy for the role of effective listening skills. As a youth, I traversed the canal several times as we sailed in a freight ship from the port of Valparaiso in Chile, to New York. Massive lock gates are utilized to manage the water levels in the canal, so that ships can move from one direction to another. The water level behind one set of closed locks can be much higher than that of the next compartment through which a ship will travel.

We can compare this scene to the state of mind of an individual suffering from deep emotional wounds, or involved in a serious interpersonal conflict. With disparate water levels there is a buildup of pressure behind the closed locks. If one were to open these lock gates, the flow would be mostly unidirectional. Likewise, a party who is holding in her emotions needs a release. Such an individual is unlikely to (1) think clearly about the challenge or (2) be receptive to outside input from another.

The role of the listener or helper is to allow such an individual to open the lock gates. When he does, the water gushes out. During this venting process, there is still too much pressure for a person to consider other perspectives. Only when the water level has leveled off between the two compartments, does the water begin to flow evenly back and forth. The role of the listener is to help empty the large reservoirs of emotion, anger, stress, frustration and other negative feelings until the individual can see more clearly. Not until then, can a party consider the needs of the other. Perhaps we can think of it as listening first aid.



2019 by The Regents of the University of California. Printing this electronic Web page on listening skills is permitted for personal, educational, non-commercial use as long as the author and the University of California are credited. No permission is required to distribute MP3s among students, clients, or associates if it is done at no cost. If you have any concerns you may contact the author at

23 January 2019