Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Energy and Power of Empathy

I received a response today on an earlier post “What To Do When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed by Combative Conversation”  which I would like to share with you.  It points out what we may be missing by not being willing to create powerful conversations utilizing empathy.  The response, in part, follows:

“The last years I’ve been confronted with people, over and over again, who don’t really seem to give a toss about anything (including family, ‘used-to-be friends’, collegues etc) let alone for the other one, which actually made me take a step back as well (why keep on caring or invest time when people seem to be numb or don’t seem to care at all?).”   They went on to say: “most of us grew up without any ‘sharing’ at all, besides perhaps a smile, a laugh and anger…certainly for the older generations still among us: this was and is (in many cases) a luxury ‘asset’ or ‘nice to have’ but it (was) never a necessity.”

What I am proposing, and practicing, is a different way of communicating than most of us are familiar with.  It requires us to recognize that these messages we have been receiving, and that we have allowed to terrorize us, are being sent by people who have unmet needs that are asking us to be a positive factor in their happiness and security in life.  Marshall B. Rosenberg, author of Non-Violent Communication, says combative messages are merely “opportunities for us to give to people who are in pain”.   As the above response points out – many of us look at these opportunities as reasons to react with our own pain, turning away or no longer caring about our fellow human beings.

Empathic conversation takes time, but in the long run takes much less time than sticking with the day in and day out conversation of misunderstanding and struggle.  By not rushing through the sharing of feelings, and reflecting back our understanding of those feelings, we will either sense a shift in their tension level or they will stop talking.   At that point it is good to ask “Is there more that you wanted to say?”

What we may also see in the response above is that the person responding is starved for empathy themselves, and therefore may not be able to offer it to others.  Sometimes you need to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that your own fears are stopping you from responding well.  Other participants may surprise you by coming up with the empathy you need.  In addition, when you find yourself in distress, you can immediately grant yourself some space to give yourself some empathy by asking for the space or removing yourself from the situation.

The Energy of Empathy

  1. When you hear judgments, criticisms and orders from those higher up in the hierarchy, don’t forget to give them the same empathy you would give your peers.  This takes the sting out of what you are hearing, and gets down to what they are feeling and needing.
  2. The more you can express your feelings, the needs behind them, and make a request around getting your needs met, the less frightening it is to open yourself up to this vulnerability.  You begin to feel safer all the way around.
  3. Say what you need to say by listening for other people’s feelings and needs.  You may say nothing at all, or simply verbalize what you have heard.  There is very little that can’t be transformed into soul-deep feelings and needs with the utilization of empathic listening.
  4. When you can keep your ‘but’ out of people’s faces, and concentrate on their feelings and needs, you will eventually no longer see an angry person as a potential monster.
  5. Here is a big one for me – when you can consciously look for feelings and needs behind someone’s “no” you open the door to understanding what they want that stops them from responding the way you want them to.  And, it protects you from taking the ‘no’ as a personal rejection.
  6. Use empathy to bring vitality and energy back into a conversation that is boring or has gone on too long.  Speakers prefer that you interrupt them; the irony is that if the speech and/or conversation is lacking vitality, the speaker has lost their energy for talking as much as you have lost your energy for listening.  Interrupt them!
  7. Learn to empathize with silence.  Whew!  Can you listen for the feelings and needs underneath the silence?  Pay attention to your intuition around it, and paraphrase what you “hear” with a question of understanding.  You might be amazed at what you find out!

Just for today, I will listen with empathy in order that I might be fully present in my conversations at home, at work and at play.

Are you willing to be present in your daily conversations by becoming familiar with the practice of empathy?

Georgia Feiste, President of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master and EFT practitioner.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find Georgia on her website, Collaborative Transitions, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.   Georgia may also be reached at (402) 304-1902 if you wish to schedule a 30 minute complementary consultation.

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