Don’t interject, just listen

SKILLS speakers discuss portraying empathy

The first SKILLS workshop of March, led by Dan Burfeind and Makinley Wright, dove into an insightful discussion centering around empathy. Empathy – by definition – is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Attendees were shown a brief clip of an animation titled “Brené Brown on Empathy,” detailing a scenario in which two individuals need to be empathetic to someone who is struggling emotionally. The video reminded attendees that opening up and connecting to someone emotionally empowers people to search within their own insecurities and feelings. 

The video showed one individual reaching out to the visibly sad and struggling person while the second does not attempt to connect to them on a deeper level, but rather just offers food as a substitute to attempting to listen and understand how they are feeling. Without meaning to, they are “silver lining,” that person’s feelings and situations, meaning they are creating a glimmer of hope out of the situation rather than listening with full attention. 

After their video introduction, speakers Burfeind and Wright offered some ground rules for empathy. There are four qualities of empathy: perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotion in other people and communication.

Perspective taking makes one ask themselves “what have you done and how do you listen,” when thinking about how we connect with others. This helps individuals put themselves in someone else’s shoes despite not going through a similar situation. Achieving this requires listening and reflecting. 

It is essential to let the other person speak freely and try not to interject with a similar story, attempting to relate until they are done speaking. The occasional head nod is also a great indicator. In turn, being able to allow oneself to become open and vulnerable is the most important and beneficial way to connect with someone, allowing them to feel supported. However, one would have to ask themselves if they are emotionally available to do so.

Staying out of judgement poses the question of why a person feels the need to judge. People may wonder why individuals love to be critical. The answer is simple: people do it to make themselves feel better. Sometimes, it is not intentional nor malicious, but a person can find themselves comparing situations, saying things like “at least I’m not like…” This is harmful to oneself and others. 

The final two aspects of what empathy encompasses recognize emotions while also emphasizing the need to communicate effectively. Again, the topic of being vulnerable was discussed by Burfeind and Wright. 

To match someone’s feelings, one would need to dive deep emotionally, conveying to the said person that they do understand and they are not alone. At the same time, people should avoid blatantly saying “I understand how you feel.” By refraining from that statement, it avoids a possible negative response from someone questioning how. Instead, it is best to validate the person’s feelings. If one cannot specifically relate, it is okay. Sometimes, all a person needs is to be heard and know that they have someone to listen to them. 

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