Giving empathy before offering advice
With the kickoff of this new wonderful site, I’d like to share some tools for supporting each other that aren’t as common as relating, cheering up or giving advice.
A number of years ago I was blessed to have the opportunity to go through a comprehensive conflict resolution training in order to become a community mediator. The foundation of this training was unlearning what I had thought was empathy and compassion and planting seeds of true empathy in my heart.
I was just recently reminded of the power of empathy a couple days ago when I shared with a friend, online (because I am traveling internationally for an extended period of time) how heavy my heart was, being so far from home, friends and family. I shared that I was lonely in not being able to have meaningful conversations with people (language barrier) and that I’d not been able to process the suffering of the US’ new political landscape.
What I needed was her reflection of what I was sharing. I needed to feel heard and witnessed. I was sharing how lonely I was–had she shown curiosity about my experience by asking questions to understand my heart better–my loneliness would have lifted. Instead, I got thoughtless advice and I left the conversation even more deflated.
The next day, another friend offered me empathy and the transformation in my heart was profound. I saw this kind of transformation often when I supported people as a mediator.
I’d like to offer some tools people can use to support each other on AskLove.
1.) Listen with curiosity. While sometimes what inspires us to comment is familiarity with someone else’s story, its important to remember that we cannot know someone else’s story fully. Listening to understand is the most powerful gift we can offer each other.
2.) Reflect back what you hear (read). This is a practice of showing the other person you are paying attention to them without your own narrative or filter getting in the way.
3.) Ask before giving advice. Of course we come from a loving place but “cheer up” or “this is what you should do” can have a devastating impact when someone is courageously navigating a darkness. We don’t need to pull each other out of suffering, we simply need to show that we are present.
Empathy is a practice of honoring the other without casting our story onto them. Unsolicited advice sends the message that we know better–when in reality, the person living the experience is the expert on his or her life. Our role is merely to offer light when someone is seeking it.
4.) Identify the persons feelings and share–this shows the other person that you are present and aware enough that you are WITH them as they stand viewing the sunset of their story.
5.) Finally, be aware of impact. Our intentions are usually GOOD but good intentions can have negative impacts when we’re not making the space to hold the other person in unconditional positive regard. Especially when we step into more difficult conversations around privilege and oppression, impact is what we want to be focused on, not our intentions. We learn, grow and connect by noticing our impact on the world.
I hope this helps!