In last month’s blog I shared with you two stories regarding empathy. The first was told by my girlfriend after she and I had a conversation where I told her I didn’t need her to “fix my problems.” The second was a story about a woman I had once worked with who’s empathy response was always “one upping” and how that had made me and others, keep their distance from her.
I ended last month’s blog by indicating that this month we would talk about “how to” show and practice the skill of empathy from the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg and Brene Brown.
Marshall Rosenberg – Non Violent Communication
How can we show empathy?
In his book Non Violent Communication Rosenberg teaches a 4 Step process to better communication. Those steps are:
1. Observe, don’t judge
2. Express your feelings with words that do not lay blame
3. Share your needs, what are you needing in this moment
4. Make a request; be sure you know the difference between a request and a demand. .
We can work on our empathy by focusing on steps two and three of the process, feelings and needs. But here’s the piece you have to remember, it’s not about your feelings and needs. To practice empathy you need to come from the perspective of the other person. “Listen for their feelings and their needs.” And then ‘paraphrase back what you are hearing.”
Be sure to watch your tone when you paraphrase. Don’t be declarative and be aware of even a hint of sarcasm or criticism. This often will shut down the other person as they will now close up and draw in as they no longer feel safe in the conversation. If we stick to paraphrasing the other’s needs and feelings we will open them up to more connection rather than shutting them down or beginning a fight.
As odd as it may sound it is difficult for us to actually hear our own tone. So though you may think you’re paraphrasing without judgement or criticism it really is about what the other person hears. Watch the others response, you can see or hear by their tone, how they received your tone.
This won’t be easy at first, the kicker is you have to remember that empathy is a PRACTICE, it is not an emotion. Remember whenever you learn a new skill; it’s always two steps forward and one step back.
In order to sustain the empathy until that person has everything they feel they need, keep asking about feelings and paraphrasing. Rosenberg says you will know that you have been “present” enough for them when:
1. You sense a release of tension and
2. Their flow of words comes to a halt.
Brene Brown – Daring Greatly
In her book “Daring Greatly” Brene shares the work of Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar from the University in Southampton UK. Wiseman says there are 4 attributes to showing empathy:
1. Perspective taking – listening to the truth as other people experience it and acknowledging it as truth.
2. Stay out of judgement – This requires understanding of where we’re the most vulnerable to feeling shame ourselves.
3. Recognize Emotion – notice what you perceive the other person is showing as an emotion
4. Communicate Emotion - communicate that emotion to them, this would be where Rosenberg’s paraphrasing may come in handy.
For so many of us we may find ourselves either unable or unwilling to empathize despite our efforts. This is often because we are to starved for empathy ourselves for us to be able to offer it to others. We need empathy to be able to give it.
To this I say, once you know what it looks like, be vulnerable enough to know you will need to ask for it.
I often say to my partner now, “Stop, I don’t want you to fix my problem, I need you to empathize! “
Brene says empathy is connection. It’s true; I have felt it when I was the one receiving empathy. Even though the other person may not have had the same experience as you the result we receive when shown empathy is, ‘they get me or they get it! I am not alone.”
To show empathy does not require that we have the exact same experience as someone else. Because empathy is about connecting with the emotion they are experiencing but not necessarily feeling that same emotion.
This video by RCA Shorts and Brene Brown gives you a visual of what the practice of empathy is all about and is the best way to describe the skill that I have seen yet.
If you want to learn more about how to both give and ask for empathy consider trying some coaching to hold you accountable to the change you are wanting in your life. Things tend to happen when we focus our attention on them.