Before I begin, let’s look at some common social scenarios. What would you do in these situations?
You’re hanging out with a friend and she starts revealing what she has been thinking about. She’s been seeing someone but has no idea if the relationship can last. This has been her 3rd relationship this past year.
A coworker is seemingly more moodier than usual. You ask him what’s wrong and he says that he thinks the boss is favoring someone else over all the work he put in last week.
Your dad notices you coming home from a night out and begins interrogating you about who you were with, and what you did. It’s a Friday, and there wasn’t any particular reason you needed to be home, plus it wasn’t the first time you’ve hung out in the past.
Did you think to yourself how you would have responded to these situations? I know that I would have tried to help my friend by calming her down. She’s been in several relationships and cannot possibly think this will be the last. “Cheer up, you’ll get over it! Did you really like this guy? Because it didn’t really seem like he was that into you.”
For my coworker, I’ve seen him idle on the job occasionally and think that he’s exaggerating on the work he’s done. “I think you’re reading too much into things, just do your own work and if you seriously do your work, I’m sure you will be noticed.”
And I’d be annoyed that my Dad is being such a worrywart for nothing. All I did was hang out with my friends, I’ve never gotten in trouble in the past, and have given no reason to believe that I was up to no good. “Calm down, I was just having fun with my friends. There is no need to overreact.”
Do these responses sound like something you would have said? They are pretty common responses to these situations and do make sense in the context…. more often than not, however, none of these friends and family are asking for your opinion on the matter.
They are not looking for answers or advice on what they should do, and they are not looking for your support to try and cheer them up. In fact, all they simply want is for someone else to understand what they are feeling. Your friend has probably been stressing out about this relationship for quite some time; she probably has trouble dealing with it alone and wanted to share the emotional stress. The best thing I could have done in response is to understand how she was feeling at that very moment. “Oh, that’s terrible. This must have been on your mind for quite some time.” Sure, she’s been through 2 breaks up already, but to your friend, this 3rd one is meaningful and wants you to also see it as such.
Reading into the emotion that your coworker or your dad is feeling at that moment is the key to bringing you relationships closer. It shows that you are really listening to what they are saying, not through their mouths, but through their heart. I’ve personally been actively searching to recognize when someone only seeks to share their feelings and have tried my best to curb judgement and purely demonstrate that I understand how they are feeling; it has been making the difference in my relationships.
How would you respond to the other two scenarios using empathetic responses? Try it out next time and see what it can do for each of you.