How to make an Empathy Statement that works
When you are the receiver in a conversation, it helps The Speaker if they think that ‘you get it!’. That you more than just hear them, that you really get what they have said. An empathy statement can help with that.
“It makes sense that you …”
If you start out with these words, you are already on a good track.
It’s not about you or what you understand. It’s not about telling them that you get it. It is about showing them that you really do ‘get it’.
- “It makes sense that you feel disappointed because you prefer the sink bench to be clean.”
- “It makes sense that you are angry because nobody listened to you.”
- “It makes sense that you went home because nobody spoke to you.”
Keep it brief
You only need to show empathy for one part. Not everything that was said. Look for how they felt. Or what they wanted. Or what they did. And why.
If you say “And”
If you hear yourself saying ‘and’ in your empathy statement, just stop.
You have probably said enough.
Saying more sometimes can damage a good, brief empathy statement. So strive to keep it very, very brief. Just like the examples above.
Example of brief
It makes sense that
you feel sad
I didn’t call you.
Use only the phrases the speaker has said
Use what was said to you.
Do not add new thoughts of your own. Or things you feel. Or tell them that you understand. Instead, tell yourself that it’s not about you. Tell yourself that as you are the receiver it’s only about helping the speaker to feel heard. Tell yourself that you can use their phrases to make a simple empathy statement that covers one small part of all they said.
When The Speaker only says three things, they are not looking after The Receiver. Or even if they say four things. For The Speaker to ‘look after The Receiver, The Speaker needs to talk for more than three brief sentences. Not communicating enough makes it too difficult for the receiver to offer an empathy statement.
To look after The Receiver, The Speaker needs to say between six to eight things. They need to take a substantial turn at communicating.
Look after The Receiver
When you are The Speaker, tell The Receiver about eight things.
- what frustrated you
- describe the frustration with goodwill present
- externalise into the event (avoid ‘YOU’ statements)
- why it frustrated you
- how this affected you – all the ways
- how it could have been different
- what you would prefer in the future
- other options that might also be ok
Saying more than ten things can also make it hard for The Receiver. Too many sentences may overwhelm The Receiver and make it challenging for them to remember and build a summary of all you have said.
Remember your one-and-only role as The Speaker is to look after The Receiver. Saying too few, or too many things will not look after them.
If The Reciever has a longer memory, then more than eight utterances may be fine. Perhaps they have a great memory and will be able to build a summary.
However, if your partner has a short memory, then to look after them you must say less. Adjust to fit The Reciever as it is them that you are looking after. Then they will be able to build a summary and not feel overwhelmed.
Get ‘couple help’ until you are both fluent in the couple dialog
I’m Henk Ensing and I help couples to learn how to communicate on the hard issues. You can book a session with me here.