This is a great video about empathy by Brene Brown, a research scholar and public speaker. Empathy is an important part of positive communication skills. It helps us connect to our partners, friends, and loved ones, especially at times when views, opinions, belief systems, triggers, and needs are challenging our ability to connect.
Empathy also helps slow down conversation enough to make sure our partners in communication feel heard and respected in their feelings. Empathy says, “I hear you, and I care about how you are feeling.” I often combine empathy with reflecting skills as empathy is made more powerful when we first show that we understood what was stated.
Partner A: “I feel frustrated when you yell at me and I would prefer that we talk in our normal speaking voices.”
Partner B reflects: “You don’t like it when I get passionate about something and think I should not get passionate?”
Partner A: “No, I love your passionate nature, I just would prefer if we could not raise our voices until yelling when passionate about something.”
Partner B: “Oh you don’t like it when I raise my voice (reflecting). I can understand that can be frustrating and even hurt your ears (Empathy). I can try to talk in a more normal voice, or I might need reminding, or can you help, or I am not sure I can be more quiet in those situations (examples of various responses set for seeking to negotiate differing needs).
It is one thing to hear something someone said in a way that they mean for it to be heard, and not necessarily how we might chose to filter it. It is another thing to show empathy for what we hear, rather than launch into a defense of our position or character. The negotiation of our differing needs and feelings can be made much easier when reflection and empathy are applied.