The Art of Empathy

At least once in our lives, we have all been subjected to these two things. One, seeking comfort from a person/s. Two, expected to provide comfort to someone. And I can, I think, safely say that chances are that we have messed up in the latter category, at the minimum, once. Even the ones who are great at The Advice category. Many a times it becomes, the ones who are especially great at The Advice category. Although personally, I would, in such situations, like to borrow from the greatest quote ever on television history(some of you might disagree). I don’t do that, so you know.

I am not great at advice…can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?’– Chandler Bing.

Or something to that effect. Anyway, I hope you got my point. That I find it easier to be sarcastic than advising. Although people do come to me for a lot of advice, I haven’t really figured out why…

So, firstly, in order to help myself and then to impart the knowledge to my fellow humans, I have tried to compile five points, sincerely hoping for it to be of some help to all of us. Here goes, the five things to keep in mind whenever someone comes to us for support:

  1. Accept that you don’t understand– Huh? What? Aren’t we supposed to say ‘I understand dear…’ a couple of times to help the person open up? Ahem, No. You see, humans are weird. Sharing happiness is something else altogether. Achievements and Trials, we like to keep it exclusive and personal. To say to someone that you understand, is like saying, it isn’t exclusive to them at all. Plus, even if ten people go through the same tribulation, it would be completely subjective to each depending on their personality and perception. So when you instead say, ‘I do not understand because I haven’t undergone it but I can try my level best to step in your shoes…‘ it would actually tell the person concerned that you are willing to take the effort…willing to really empathize. That, my friends, would incite the trust for them to confide in you.
  2. LISTEN– Just that. Listen. Do not interrupt. Do not start giving advice. Do not start narrating the event as you see it. Let them talk. Unburden themselves. Sit there and absorb their insecurities, their fears, their reservations. Listening is a highly underrated device. Put it to absolute use.
  3. IS THAT WHAT YOU WOULD DO?– Ever heard someone say ‘I mean I would never do that…’ ? Irritating, isn’t it? Yes, thank you Amy for letting us know what you would do! [Eyeroll please. And no offence to any of the Amy(s)]. Darling, that is not what they are confiding in you for! If it seems so important to you to specify your better choices, say that in your head, and speak out the rest of the sentence aloud. Better? I sure hope so! If someone does ask for your advice, ask them their options. Most people don’t even realize that many a times, they know the answer or the solution to a situation/problem. Guide them towards realization, and then advise them on the best course of action, tailored to suit their own particular persona.
  4. PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE- Not just children. Adults need a lot of praise and appreciation as well. If you really want the individual to listen to you, or to listen to the genuine criticism you might have of them, start with praising them. Maybe for being resilient. Or for making that one good decision among the ten bad ones (don’t mention the bad ones). Or for going through so much, yet never backing down, never breaking. Trust me, they want that feeling of being appreciated, of knowing that their efforts are not being sidelined, being ignored. That they are not being deemed unimportant. That their struggle is recognized. That, to them, will make all the difference.
  5. TELL THEM YOU HAVE THEIR BACK– The most important thing to say at this point is that you are there for them. That they can always think of you whenever they want a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Neither of us could ever fathom the kind of effect it has on the disturbed/distressed mind. The fact that someone might offer to help them through it, be an emotional support; can be a big deal to a lot of people. Trust me. Keep yourself in their shoes and imagine how would a sad, demoralized you would feel if someone said the same? Grateful? Happy? Emotional? Tearing up a little? Maybe a little of all of the above. Give them what you would want to receive.

There you have it! The five basics of empathizing. So the next time someone starts talking to you, be a better empathizer. (Note to myself first!) Toodles!

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