Empathy When Things are Fine
Guessing someone’s feelings and needs are most obviously helpful when there is difficulty or disconnect. Engaging in empathy in these situations is only the beginning of a richness of connection you can create.
A friend of mine recently returned from a week long visit with his family. He has been learning NVC and recently focusing on empathy. I asked how it went offering empathy to his family. He responded saying that things went fine and he didn’t need to offer empathy. However, he did mention that conversations only went to a particular depth.
Guessing another’s feelings and needs can add depth and dimension “when things are fine”. In some ways this kind of empathy can require a bit more subtlety and skill. Let’s look at a few examples.
Your 15 year old nephew says: I like to hang out and listen to my ipod.
You: Does that kind of give you a break from everything? (need for rest)
Nephew: I don’t know. I just like it.
You: Yea, it’s just fun for ya. (need for play)
Nephew: Yea, I put new songs on it every day. Check this one out.
Grandmother: You know when I worked at the library I was recognized for excellence by the mayor.
You (interrupting): Good to get acknowledgment?
Grandmother: Yes. The mayor’s name was. . (she continues the story in the way she has before.) … the town hall was full when I got my award.
You (interrupting): Everybody could witness the work you did, huh? (need for being seen)
Uncle: I tell you what that governor is doing the right thing.
You: You appreciate her support of public schools?
Uncle: Well, it’s just the most important thing. Why if we don’t educate kids, we will have a bunch of hoodlums running around like we do now.
You: Yea, helping kids and keeping the community safe?
Uncle: Well, it’s the only thing to do.
You: The foundation for a lot of things, huh?
In these examples, you might notice that I don’t guess the feeling. Guessing a feeling can create more vulnerability than a person is ready for in a “things are fine” kind of conversation. I am listening for the needs underneath each expression and giving them back in an even open tone using as few words as possible. Tone and a minimum of words together create an invitation to the speaker to go deeper.
Using more than six or seven words and a tone infused with emotion takes the focus away from the speaker and puts it back on you. When this happens it’s easy for the speaker to interpret that you are trying to “psychoanalyze” them.
Bringing forth a humbleness and a attitude of curiosity, while at the same a strength in your intention and commitment to create more aliveness and authenticity in any interaction, can add depth and dimension when things are fine.
This week look for an opportunity bring new life into a relationship that is okay, but not particularly rewarding for you.