Empathy: Understanding what is said

It is one thing to feel compassion for another person or situation and quite another to be demonstrate empathy.  I think we all can agree that we like to be listened to when we are speaking and even more important to be heard.  Most of the time we are not looking for someone to solve the problem for us – we want to know that someone understands and more important that they care.

One way of being sure that the other person knows that we heard and understood what they were saying is to repeat back to them what we heard them say, using slightly different words, paraphrasing.  When we do this we are sure then that what we understood them to say and what they meant to convey were the same.  For instance if we ask our child to clean their room for this weekend we may have in mind that it be completed prior to other activities on the weekend.  But the child may have only heard the time frame “weekend”  and may feel that as long as it is done by Sunday night that that fills the requirement.  However if they had paraphrased back to us “So you would like me to have my room cleaned by Sunday on this weekend”, immediately we would know that there was a misunderstanding and could correct the situation before there was conflict.

The same is true for understanding the feelings of others.  We may state back to a person, “So you are upset when …..”   Being able to paraphrase effectively helps us to listen more closely and confirms that we understand each other which allows us to be more empathetic.

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