I was catching up with my friend the other day. We normally chat over a cup of coffee, but this time, our conversation was over the phone. During face to face conversations, we rely heavily on the other person’s body language to really get and interpret what they are saying. During our chat, it struck me that our next three weeks of distance communication has the potential to leave us feeling unheard and devalued.
Our new normal leaves us with a desire to connect more than ever, and without the help of body language, we have to solely rely on words. I like Brené Brown’s definition of connecting. She says that connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Empathy is at the heart of this connection. Showing empathy lets the other person know that you are there to feel with them, and that they are not alone. Too often though, empathy is confused with sympathy, and sympathetic statements like, “Oh no, you poor thing,” often makes the person we are trying to connect with feel worse.
Often, when people share with us, we try to fix their problems by giving advice, or we use statements like “at least you have,” or “you are going to be alright.” Of course, we do this with the best of intentions, but in our attempts to make them feel better, we sometimes minimise what they’re feeling. Other times we try to make them feel better by telling them our own, seemingly worse, story. We all have unique circumstances and different perspectives, and it’s near impossible to know exactly what someone else is really going through. These are unprecedented, difficult times for everyone; we need to listen more attentively, hear each other and check in with our responses.
Think back to a time when a friend’s advice left you feeling unheard and devalued. So, when you are next chatting to a friend, be mindful of your response and practice empathy. Again, I find Brené Brown’s explanation of empathy so helpful, “I’m in it with you. I am not here to fix you. I’m not here to feel it for you. I am here to feel with you and let you know you’re not alone.”
This is a learning curve for all of us, and we’re not always going to get it right. Listen and really connect as best you can. Stay in touch with your circle of friends, rekindle your connections with old friends and perhaps even make some new ones by reaching out to people in need.