When people come to us with a problem, it’s easy to lapse into behaviors that—although usually well-meaning—serve to block us from hearing the other person’s experience. We’d be better off following the words of this inside-out saying: “Don’t just do something; stand there”…and try not to:
- Counsel. Seek not to advise solutions (until asked) but listen and reflect back the person’s experience.
- Defend. When you explain, justify or rationalize, you invalidate the other’s experience. You can create a time to offer your experience, but for now, just listen.
- Shut down. This happens in parenting when we say things like: “Stop crying. It’s not that bad.” Children are more likely to stop crying when they feel they’ve been heard.
- One-up. Saying, “Oh, that’s nothing! Listen to what happened to me!” gives the message, “Your experience doesn’t count.”
- Reassure. It’s OK for people to feel their feelings. When we try to console (“It’s not your fault; you did the best you could…”), we take people out of their feelings.
- Pity. Sympathy and pity (“Oh, you poor thing!”) are very different from empathy, which is simply a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.
- Commiserate. Sharing stories of your own similar experiences is not showing empathy; it turns the focus away from the person with the problem.
- Correct. First listen. After the other person feels fully understood, then see about correcting any misunderstandings or inaccurate impressions.
- Enlighten. Don’t attempt to educate unless your opinion is asked.
- Interrogate. Too many questions distract from the feelings at hand.
Author’s content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications