Recently, a client shared that she was trying to figure out how to communicate effectively with a friend with whom she had had a disagreement a couple of months ago.

She had meant to sit down with her colleague to figure things out, but they never set the time and left the conversation hanging. A couple of days ago, her friend wrote, hurt, asking if the relationship was over.  My client felt taken aback, still not seeing eye-to-eye and feeling kind of defensive, but wanting to listen to her friend with empathy, honesty, and respect.  Here’s my response to her about effective communication and empathizing with others, even when it’s hard.

Let’s begin by looking at what empathy means.

To empathize means to imagine stepping into another person’s shoes, clearly seeing and hearing the other person’s feelings, thoughts, needs, and desires. Contrary to popular belief, empathizing does not necessarily mean that you agree with the other person’s perspective but rather that you fully accept the other person’s point of view without making them wrong.  Listening with empathy is the foundation for effective communication.

Empathizing can sound like, “I see you and accept you exactly as you are.  I see things differently than you, but I know that you are not wrong or bad for seeing things the way you see them.”  It can help to visualize empathizing with your colleague no matter what, even if they’re angry.  Know that your friend only feels how she feels; her anger and emotions are neither right nor wrong.

The next step is to take enough time to become centered and grounded so you can approach your friend from a place of non-judgment and empathy.

Give yourself as much time and space as possible to focus yourself before approaching her so that you can communicate with compassion, and then set a time in which both of you can give each other your full attention.

Listen deeply to the feelings, needs, and positive intention underneath your friend’s words. Give your friend as much time as she needs to express herself. Rather than thinking about what you’ll say next as she speaks, listen carefully to what she’s saying. When she’s ready for you to respond, let her know that you empathize by sharing the feelings, needs, and requests that you hear behind her words.

For example, you might say, “Let me see if I understand this right.  When you reached out to me, and I wasn’t diligent in making a connection happen, you felt hurt.  It sounds like you want to feel acknowledged and like you matter to me, and you wish that I would play a more active role in reconnecting with you.  Is that right?  Is there anything else?”

Effective communication entails listening carefully to the entire message, so always ask if you heard your friend right and if there’s anything else.  These questions will help you hear the whole story and ensure that your colleague feels like you are empathizing with her.  Continuing to listen and rephrase like this until your friend feels heard and seen and understand.

Once your friend says that she feels heard, ask if this is a good time for you to share how you feel.

A good starting place may be to invite her to hear how you’re feeling and your positive intentions for the conversation.  For example, you might say, “I feel nervous about how to communicate with you, confused about our disagreement and uncertain of what to say.  I want to be clear in my communication with you, and I want to respect your feelings while being honest from my perspective.”  When you share how you’re feeling, it helps you appear less threatening and makes it easier for your colleague to return the gift of empathy.

If you feel as though your friend can empathize and you want to share more, my final suggestion is that you share with your friend what you’re needing and wanting.

This step can take a bit more work, and you will probably need some time to think about it before sitting down with her.  Ask yourself what you would like from the conversation.  In an ideal yet realistic world, what would you like to happen so that you can leave the conversation feeling satisfied?

If you’d like support learning how to communicate with ease, apply for a free Discovery Session today and get clear on your next steps towards a life of impact and joy. And, click here to learn more about how our personal coaching services can help you become a more empathetic listener and effective communicator.

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