Empathy: The Art of Listening

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How many times has this happened to you? You come home and can see that your partner is stressed out and unhappy.

You ask what’s wrong and s/he tells you about something crappy going on at work or with friends. Being the good partner that you are you offer your advice to your beloved only to have him or her snap “I don’t need your advice, I just need you to freaking listen to me!!”.

Even the best intentioned support can sometimes go awry. But how are you supposed to know what kind of support is going to make your partner feel the care that you’re honestly trying to offer?

I’m going to quickly provide two lists for you. The first provides examples of well intentioned types of support that often backfire  (“Empathy Blockers”) and the second list gives some tried and true suggestions that will make your partner feel heard and supported (“Empathy Superchargers”).

Empathy Blockers

One Upping – “I’m sorry you had such a bad day. I can totally relate cause something similar once happened to me. Let me tell you about it…”

Advising/Fixing –“Maybe you should ______”

Educating – “Let me tell you about a great book you should read”

Analyzing – “You know, this is a pattern of yours”

Discounting – “Well, at least you have a job. You should be grateful for that at least”

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