Empathy – Communicating with the Heart

Building Relationships with Empathy by

Entering Someone’s World: One of the best ways to endear people to yourself is to be able to ask them questions about themselves and to really listen to what they say to you. People love to talk about themselves- so write out and be prepared to ask them some questions which will help you find out more about who they are and what their life is like. Then be prepared to really listen and paraphrase what they say. If you can paraphrase and summarize what someone has said to you, you will send the message that you understand and care for him/her. This is one of the most important ways you can validate someone. This also helps you begin to empathize with people because you start putting yourself in their place and enter their world. Here are some examples of how to show supportiveness and how to paraphrase.

Practice these with someone.

Supportiveness and paraphrasing skills. Many people are good at one of these, few have the ability to learn these skills along with assertiveness. When supportiveness and paraphrasing skills are combined with assertiveness- the results are remarkably effective. With practice anyone can learn it!

These are abilities which can be learned to build trust and understanding between you and someone else which communicates, “I’m on your side.”

1. OPEN RESPONSES – the ability to communicate openness to help facilitate gaining further information, even if that information may be critical or emotional.

Sample Open Responses:

“….Say more about . . .”
“….I’m confused about . . .”
“….Spell that out further . . .”
“….Give me a specific example so I can understand more clearly . . .”

Practice Open Responses:
(a) Your friend says to you, “I feel that people don’t really care very much about me. It seems that in every situation people tend to ignore me”
You say:

(b) Your neighbor says to you, “I thought this community would be a lot more peaceful when I moved here. I am having a lot of difficulty sleeping at night.”
You say:

2. UNDERSTANDING RESPONSES: This is the ability to demonstrate to someone else, especially an antagonist, that you understand what he or she is trying to communicate. Accomplished by paraphrasing.
Paraphrasing is-
stating in your own words
what the other person said.
* Focus on the speaker (You . . )
* Be brief
* Fact/Feeling
(show you grasp what the speaker is most concerned about)
Begin by saying: “In other words…”
“Let me get this straight…”
“So you felt that…”
“What I hear you saing is…”
“If I understand you correctly…”
“Would you say that …?”
“Do I understand you to mean…?”
“Do you mean…?”

Sample Paraphrases:
“You were really scared”
“You’d rather stay home”
“You feel frustrated”
“You felt it was very unfair for me to . . .”
“From your perspective I was not being helpful when I . . .”
“The meeting last night went too long and you’re especially frustrated with_____ since I had promised to keep things ___(short . . . )”
“I want to make sure I’m understanding you accurately. You’re angry because . .”

(DON’T SAY . . .”What I hear you saying . . .!” as it will sound like a crutch phrase to the person you are paraphrasing.)
If you can enter into another person’s world by using empathy – reflecting back and paraphrasing what they have said… you will show them you care and probably win them over.

Part II: Listening and Empathy Facts

Listening and empathizing are essential skills for building relationships, defusing conflict and anger and really connecting with other people. We rarely learn these skills in the classroom or growing up. Most of us spend 70% of the day communicating, 45% of that time listening. We all want to be heard (but spouses talk only 10-20 minutes per day). It is insulting to be ignored or neglected.

We all want to be understood but, we have difficulty giving to others what we want from them. We want others to really care and understand our feelings and opinions. We want to know we matter. We want validation.

Empathy goes the extra mile by really listening with the heart – caring about and identifying with the other’s opinions, needs and feelings. Empathy acted out listens intently and actively by asking clarifying questions and reflecting back what the person has said in a caring way. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person but, you are genuinely trying to understand what they are saying, what their situation and needs are. You even try to imagine “what it’s like to be in their shoes or situation”. We all know what it means to really listen. It is more than hearing the words, it is understanding and accepting the other person’s message, situation and feelings.

You may be thinking “this is too much”. I just want to live my life and let other’s live theirs. Think about a time when you were in a jam or were facing a crisis in your life. What really helped you get through it? People who listened, cared and supported you. Why not give to others what you want from them? Why not decide now to become more humane! Here’s how good listening and accurate empathy help you become more caring and compassionate:

• It shows you care and that you understood the other person. Thus, people will enjoy talking to you and will open up more.
• If you misunderstand others – they can correct your interpretations and you will learn more about people.
• It usually directs the conversation towards emotional issues which are very important to others.
• It lets the talker know that you (the listener) accept him/her and they will feel more open to telling their story and feelings to you.
• Since it is safe to talk about personal subjects with you – the talker will express their deeper emotions, be more willing to explore these and problem-solve.
• It decreases any frustration or anger we have and can promote forgiveness because we gain a greater understanding of their experience..
• It can prevent or reduce negative assumptions about others because empathy helps us build understanding of the other person.
• It fosters more meaningful, more helpful, closer friendships.

Another quote: “finally, respect and love disarm hostility in marriage, as elsewhere in life. One powerful way to de-escalate a fight is to let your partner know that you can see things from the other perspective, and that this point of view may have validity, even if you do not agree with it yourself. Another is to take responsibility or even apologize if you see you are in the wrong. At a minimum, validation means at least conveying that you are listening, and can acknowledge the emotions being expressed, even if you can’t go along with the argument: “I see you’re upset.” And at other times, when there is no fight going on, validation takes the form of compliments, finding something you genuinely appreciate and voicing some praise. Validation, of course, is a way to help soothe your spouse, or to build up emotional capital in the form of positive feelings.”

Empathy isn’t:
Empathy doesn’t mean you compromise the truth and doesn’t mean you become a victim of abuse.  Empathy doesn’t try to control others.

Empathy is:
Empathy includes respect for yourself and others. Empathy not only hears the feelings underneath – it is able to feel other’s feelings to some extent.  When you can empathize with others – you consider their needs as important as your own. Empathy motivates you to work towards resolution of issues seeking the best outcome for all parties.

Learn about assertiveness,  empathy, managing anger and building relationships at the Anger Management Institute!

© copyright 2018 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC, CAMS-V