I was catching up with my friend the other day. What would have usually been a chat over a cup of coffee, was now a conversation over the phone. When we have a face to face conversation, we rely heavily on the other person’s body language to interpret what they are saying. While chatting to her, it struck me that our new way of communicating can often leave us not feeling heard and valued.
Our new normal has resulted in us needing to connect now more than ever; however, without the help of body language, we have to rely on words. I like Brené Brown’s definition of connecting. She explains it as “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. Displaying empathy lets the other person know you are there to feel with them, and lets them know 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.
With the best intentions in mind, when people share with us, we often try and fix their problems by giving advice straight away. In an attempt to make them feel better, we often minimise what they are feeling by responding with statements like “at least you have” or “of course you are going to be alright.” Sometimes we try and make them feel better by telling them our own, seemingly worse, story. We all have different perspectives, so we can’t make assumptions about how other people are feeling. These are unprecedented difficult times for everyone; we need to hear each other – our responses are so important.
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 responses, try and be empathic. 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 aren’t always going to get it right. Let’s all try and become better listeners during this time. Please remember to stay connected with your family and friends and extend that to friends you may not have seen in a while, and people who you know live alone. We can get through this, but only if we work together.