I am one who espouses the benefits of empathic communication for managing difficult (angry) people. Research by Dr Carl Marci shows us that if two people are in an empathic conversation, their autonomic systems synchronise. So what is it and how does it work?
In simple terms, empathy is the ability to imagine ourselves in the same situation as another person, including feeling the experience and emotion. Put yourself in their shoes. When a listener reflects back the other person's feelings, the other person perceives that the listener understands their situation.
I have previously discussed the eight strategies of active listening so I won't do so again. Here's another way to become an empathic listener;
- First you must listen - Encourage the other person to talk and show a genuine interest in what they have to say.
- Listen for emotion - Emotion gets in the way of free-flowing communication and stalls the other person. When you hear them say something that they are emotional about, acknowledge the emotion by saying "I can see how that would make you angry/sad/confused".
- Paraphrase what they have told you - Put the important points of what they have said into your own words. This shows that you are listening, you are a person, and you care.
- Thank them - When they have finished telling you their story acknowledge it in some way, either by thanking them or expressing how you might feel the same way as they do.
- Be honest, be genuine, be open - Don't let your own pre-judging get in the way.
- Make it about them - Ignore your own story, it is about them. Maintain a focus on their situation.
Empathic communication is not an easy technique to master, it takes time and practice.