Honing empathetic listening skills, also known as active listening, takes our ability even further. Fiero explains, "Empathetic listening is characterized by a genuine desire to understand the words and the emotions of the messages communicated by others." He furthers, "When these messages are insufficiently received, there are usually several factors which prevent it. Thinking is the most common." Unfortunately, operators do not have the luxury of not thinking about what their response or the next question is going to be. We have to do this to be successful and get the information we need to keep citizens and officers safe. What we can do, is make sure after we ask a question, we are truly listening to what the person is saying. It's easy to miss something important that was said because in our minds we've moved on to the next required question. I've found myself feeling like I've just snapped back into the conversation I thought was routine (ok, there's no such thing), was moving into mundane details and realized, "I'm sorry, did you just say this was the father of your children and he has taken one without permission?" Or comments like, "I'm not sure this is important but he has a gun." By continuing to be engaged in the conversation from the beginning to the end, you improve each communication and make it safer for everyone.
Again, it's easy to get complacent in our communications with callers. In my opinion, ironically, those who are viewed as the best at their job (ability to get through calls quickly and efficiently) are the operators who struggle most with empathetic listening. The "Just the Facts, Ma'am" mentality gets the job done but misses out on the opportunity to connect with the callers. "If you are a naturally cynical, oppositional, negative, critical, insecure, close-minded, pessimistic, or self-absorbed person you will listen to others and process the messages they send you from the base of those emotions," Fiero explains. "Needless to say, such emotions will strain attempts at empathetic listening if left unchecked."
I'm not saying the goal of emergency communications is to assist callers with their emotional needs. We are not counselors. What we do have is a unique opportunity to be that first responder who makes dealing with a crisis a little more bearable to the person experiencing it. We shouldn't be making the situation harder. It's nice to know we are not only helping get a person the physical help they need, but also opening the journey to healing and moving past an unpleasant event. Fiero sums this up, "A little (genuine) concern in your listening efforts will go a long way and pay big dividends in your personal and professional relationships."