How do I empathise accurately?

Many of us would have felt the irritation of being misunderstood or the pang of invalidation when we so badly want a friend or family member to hear us but they don’t or perhaps they don’t have the skills it takes to empathise accurately with us. Even worse, is when they give you unsolicited advice that is so off the mark that it makes you feel even worse.

Now, flip the situation and put your child in your shoes and imagine yourself as that friend or family member I’ve just described. Its easy to see why children stop talking to us and they give us the silent treatment, or they say “I don’t know”. You know the story!

What is the target here? What we want to do is understand what the other person is saying AND feeling. Why? because when we feel somehow has understood and heard us, we feel more settled, more secure, safe. Isn't that what we all need?

We cannot get on target if the information we are relying on is based on our assumptions, presumptions and projections. So, we have to set our own stuff aside and tune in to the words and the feelings that your interlocutor is sharing with you. Then make curious enquiries that helps move you closer and closer to the target.

Check that you’re not doing these things:

  • giving advice unless you’re asked
  • making presumptions and assumptions
  • projecting your own feelings because you think you’ve been through something similar
  • mind-reading
  • making premature interpretations
  • saying “I know how you feel”

Check that you are doing these things:

  • speak less, hear more.
  • Try register emotion behind words and don’t be afraid to ask how they feel
  • Watch your body language for evidence of disinterest and boredom (e.g.: don’t look at your watch, don’t text, don’t answer your phone, don’t multi-task etc – this is a sure fire way of alienating someone). if you can’t control your body language; you my friend will have to work on this I’m sorry to say
  • learn to paraphrase what the other person is saying so you understand the message they are trying to convey to you

Safe-ish types of questions to ask are simple who/what/when/where/how sorts of questions at the most basic level (uninspiring but not a bad place to start as you gather information) this gets you in the ‘ball-park’ or near the target so your aim is more accurate. But you have to start refining your aim and by regularly checking and rechecking your understanding with the person, you’ll increase your precision.

People need to feel heard, seen and understood. So, give them what they need and you’re on your way to becoming more influential.

 If you want to learn a bit more and improve your empathic skills which will increase your influence with other people, download the FREE mini-training resource. You'll find the link at the bottom of the page. Just let us know where to email that to you- enter your name and email below.

Parenting can be tough. Especially in the digital age.


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