Empathic listening is not merely "active" listening, or parroting back what your partner says to make sure that you heard them correctly. It"s becoming a giant, empty ear; listening with your whole body, brain, and intuition so you become a vessel into which your partner's thoughts—and, more importantly, feelings—can flow. You try to have empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another (Webster's). When you think you’ve got it, you repeat it back to them, and they either say "Yes, that's it," or "No, that's not quite it, it's more like this," and then you try again and it keeps going back and forth until your partner is confident that you understand the essence of his or her feelings about a particular matter. The beauty of the process is that the listener helps the speaker to gradually clarify his or her own point of view, so both parties begin to understand that behind someone's vehement position there might be a feeling, and maybe then an important or particularly painful memory, and then, perhaps, another feeling, and another, and another still.
Like peeling an onion.
With practice, you can engage your intuition more fully, making small leaps to try to tease out the feelings behind your partner's words more quickly. With each success, your partner trusts you more, and, as a result gives you more information about him or herself, stuff you didn't even know you didn’t know. It's a virtuous cycle.
You can get startlingly raw startlingly fast, but though there's risk there, it feels controlled, safe. That's partly because "dialoguing"—the "Relationship Enhancement" name and process for employing the empathic listening technique—is very specific and measured and you have to take turns. And you can't interrupt. As a result, it’s a great way to address a point of contention without either partner hitting the roof or getting distracted by other issues.
So after a good amount of practicing on various nit-picky things in that overheated basement, we were sent off to lunch with the goal of doing a dialogue about a more loaded issue in our relationship.