My last post, 6 Reasons Why Women Should Stop Apologizing For Their Feelings, got me thinking about ways to communicate with someone who does decide to communicate their feelings with us. How should we react so that they are not inclined to apologize to us. What can we do to help?
It got me thinking about empathy. When we share our feelings with someone or are on the receiving end, the key to a successful conversation is exercising empathy.
This term is not to be confused with sympathy. In our customer service training at work, we watched a simple three minute cartoon narrated by research professor, Dr.Brenè Brown, that explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. They are two very different things and understanding that difference will completely change the way we communicate.
Empathy Defined: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy Defined: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
What Dr. Brown says at the very end of the video is that when she shares her feelings with someone, she’d prefer them to say, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.” She then goes on to say, “Because the truth is that rarely does a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
So how can we all get to the point where we can drive connection in these situations with our friends and loved ones? Here are five ways we can exercise empathy:
- Put ourselves in their shoes. We need to try not to respond with only our perspective of things. Everyone is unique and outlooks are naturally going to different. If we genuinely care about this person, why should we make them feel worse by pushing our views on them when they are the ones who are upset or feeling hurt. We can’t let our annoyance with the conversation, defensiveness or sympathetic mindset get in the way.
- Listen. We should let this person first, finish what they have to say without interruption. Remember that he or she is the one who is upset here. We should also be listening to understand, not listening to respond. Avoiding defensive reactions will make the conversation go much smoother. Ears open, mouth closed.
- Pay attention to non-verbal cues. Is this person fidgety and appear to be nervous? Do they have tears in their eyes? Are they fearfully avoiding eye contact? Pay attention to these cues to determine their temperament and mood. If we don’t show empathy, we could make them even more upset and we don’t want that, especially if we care for them.
- Hold back judgement. We shouldn’t make fun or belittle someone’s feelings and emotions. Remember tip one. We wouldn’t want someone to do that to us so let’s show the respect that we would want if we were in their shoes.
- Ask them what they need from us. Someone is coming to us for a reason. Either something we did bothered them or they may even just be venting about something unrelated us. Use the statement Dr. Brown suggested, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me,” and follow up with, “What can I do to help?” Again, a response rarely makes someone feel better but offering to be there for them may just do the trick.
My purpose of this post is to encourage myself and others to be the support system that the people in our lives need. We should allow them to be vulnerable with us and try to understand that it took them courage to approach us and open up. We shouldn’t give them even more fear by lacking the empathy and support they deserve.