A Quick Way To Manifest Concern

by Stephen Boyd | June 15, 2005

When people talk to you, a quick way to establish credibility and let them know you really want to listen to them is to give a statement of empathy first. Before you disagree or give advice, make sure you understand the problem they are sharing.

Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes but with emotional separateness. You want to keep an emotional distance so that you can respond with objectivity. Thus the first response or feedback to a person’s problem or concern is a statement of empathy.

Possible empathetic statements include: "I can only imagine how you feel," "That has to be frustrating," "I can tell you have had a rough day," "That must have made you feel angry," "I know how important that was to you," "It hurts to feel unappreciated," or "You seem really happy about that."

Do not say, "I know exactly how you feel." There is a human resistance to that statement. When faced with a problem or concern, people feel that no one has had exactly the same experience that they have had.

Most likely you are not a psychologist so you are not there to be their counselor but rather a person to listen and respond neutrally. They may want to talk out the problem or to seek answers or advice. Once you have given the statement of empathy, then proceed with making sure you understand the problem and give advice if requested. If you are the manager or CEO, tell the person what to do next.

Pause before giving your statement of empathy and show concern in your tone of voice. Look directly at the person and lean forward to show nonverbal empathy as well.

Generally, job responsibilities entail only a limited number of problems to deal with on a daily basis. Thus after you have experience in listening to people’s concerns, you can store up a number of empathy statements that fit certain situations and use the appropriate one when that type of problem presents itself.

The same principle is true in family relations. If you remember to offer an empathy statement first, the remainder of the conversation will go much more smoothly.

Resist giving advice or telling the person what to do before giving the statement of empathy. Give the statement of empathy before ever giving advice or instructions. This one sentence can be the determining factor in whether or not the talker will respond to your feedback in a positive way.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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