Why most people lack empathy and fail to understand others

Audio version available: 

Understanding people and being able to empathize with them is a quality most people lack. This is not due to the fact that our empathy skills are not developed, it is due to the fact that most of us do not try to understand people. We listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. Which leads to errors in communication. 

There used to be a professor called Dave, Dave was an intelligent man that spent all of his life teaching. Despite being academically successful, he had problems with his family. Especially his kids. Dave had two kids, the older one was 21 and the younger one was 13. 

Every time one of the kids had a problem, they went to their mother instead of Dave. This happened because every time they tried talking to him, Dave did not listen and pressured them to perform better in school and get a career in academics. 

The 21-year-old wanted to be an artist and needed advice and feedback. Unfortunately, as I said above, he was not able to go to Dave because Dave never listened and tried to do all of the talking himself. Whenever they had a conversation, Dave would talk more. 

The problem is you can not expect to understand the problem when you are doing most of the talking. If you do not listen and try to understand, you will never be able to communicate effectively. As the saying goes, “No one has learned while talking.” 

Dave’s inability to listen to people led to an abysmal social life and also ended up affecting his career. Despite being one of the most intelligent professors in the university, he was unable to communicate with students. 

Next time you are in a conversation with someone, make sure you are listening with the intent to understand instead of the intent to reply. 

Authors Note

We wish our readers don’t just simply read this story but rather also reflect on the lessons mentioned. See if you can implement any of the lessons taught in your life.

Book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey 


  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood

We have the tendency to rush in to fix things up with good advice. But we often fail to take the time to diagnose, to really, deeply understand the problem first. 

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply. We are either speaking or preparing to speak. Additionally, we try to filter everything through our own problems and desires, reading our autobiography into other people’s lives. 

Diagnose before you prescribe  

When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important contextually — in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s desires and concerns — you will increase the credibility of your ideas. 

Notice: The story above is fictional. 

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