On Empathy

By | September 23, 2016

Some helpful techniques and guidance about how to listen when people tell you something about themselves. It’s called empathy:

When someone speaks of their experience, pain, or situation, empathy is to listen, and then to walk or sit with them.

Often when people tell you of a painful event they aren’t asking for your own experience. They’re saying they feel safe with you and are implying that they really need you to listen and even maybe help them process. Be careful sharing your “me too!” stories at that moment. It might be because your memories are triggered, but sometimes that response tells them “Time for my own story.” It’s not wrong to share. Just be mindful and listen first.

When you ask empathy questions you’re asking for more from them at that moment of how they feel or what they think. Plans for the next step can wait.

Let them speak and don’t correct their feelings. Grief and anger and frustration are normal feelings and they shouldn’t scare us. It will kill us if we can’t feel our feelings. It’s OK to feel them and express them.

It’s OK to say “I don’t know what to say,” because you don’t know. You can then also say, “but I will listen and support you.”

We’re not asked to be superhuman in how we live, and we will fail. Your attempt to reach out and connect might fail. The key is in understanding that you don’t need to always succeed. You just need to try.

You’re good people with good instincts.