Empathic Understanding

Connection via empathetic understanding is the real connection between two people and is the most endearing act of love and honor which one can present to another. This connection is the most meaningful part of any relationship. You know it. You remember when you’ve felt it. When your friend finishes your sentences, when you’ve had a strong bond with a teacher or mentor, you felt connected, understood.

You know this. Yet, surprisingly, I see a lack of empathetic understanding as the underlying indicator of trouble ahead in the most important relationships, between lovers. Maybe you felt a connected and/or understood in the beginning (though that was likely a more powerful driving force than connection) but after a while, you realize that the connection you felt was simply you projecting your desire to be connected and understood onto your partner.

When you’re in the projection mode, you see everything interpreted through your special lens which is rose-colored and sees synchronicity in all things. Following the passing of time, things that used to be “cute” are becoming annoying, and you’re no longer feeling as though you are connected or understood, as you once thought you were.

When you’re projecting your feelings onto your interpretation of another person, you feel as though they are feeling your feelings, even when no such connection exists.

It is this feeling of another’s feelings that Stephen Covey refers to as his, “Habit number 5: Seek first to understand then to be understood” in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is the connection which exemplifies the highest integrity and connection between two people, whether used in business relationships, or more importantly, at home. It is a powerful connection which promotes and deepens respect, trust, and intimacy.

This simple method of joining the worlds of two people into a united vision felt by two is the secret of the most successful relationships. Sometimes it just happens organically, and the two people don’t even know they are doing it. For the rest of us, we need to first understand the concept before we can even think about attempting such a thing. And it’s on you to proactively take the first step.

Understanding is not giving advice, being over-protective, or fixing things for another person. Empathetic understanding is simply the process of actively listening, inviting them to dig deeper, and even more deeply, until they have gotten it all out, while you are using your imagination to feel what it might be like to be in that other person’s shoes, empathizing with him or her.

Empathetic Understanding

If you’re unaccustomed to this higher level of listening, it may take some practice. Creating a safe and sacred atmosphere can be an important component when someone is sharing something close to their heart, so eliminating distractors, such as the TV, music playing in the background, or retreating to a place where more privacy can be established are excellent ways to honor your partner’s sharing.

Nodding your head and looking them in the eye indicates you’re listening, while you are resisting your inclination to interrupt or interject when they are sharing. Let them speak their piece and listen carefully. When they pause, simply try to restate what they just said in your own words, starting with, “Let me see if I get what you’re saying…”

Then ask them if there’s anything more they’d like to say about that? And let them continue. Repeat this as many times as necessary, until they’ve announced that’s all they have to say.

Rather than give in to the urge to counsel or help him or her fix something your partner is concerned about, after first imagining what he or she might be feeling, feeling it as though you were feeling them yourself, offer up validation of your partner’s feelings. Something like, “Wow, you must have felt devastated.” And allow them to either agree with you or reclarify what they are feeling about what they were sharing. If they reclarify, imagine what it would feel like from that perspective.

If you have different opinions about something like your partner was terrified by a ride at the amusement park and you found it exhilarating, you can validate your partner’s feelings while agreeing to allow each other the right to their own experience. For instance, you might say, “I can feel how terrified you must have been on that ride,” (empathy, and continue) “but I was having the time of my life.” It’s okay to have different points of view, but very important to deeply understand where your partner is coming from and honor them by allowing them to have their experience any way they want to.

If they’ve intimated their story to you devoid of feelings, it might be helpful to lightly probe and encourage them to share their feelings by simply asking, “How did that make you feel?”

I think you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level.

Relationship Skills for a Better Life

Since you do not live in a vacuum, you are surrounded by a wide variety of people who add color and depth to your human experience, how you manage these people (or how they manage you) are based on your relationship skills.

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes from spousal, cohabitation, familial, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Sometimes, family (our closest relationships) are the most difficult to manage.

Probably, the most important skill you can have in managing your relationships is communication. How adept or inept you are at demonstrating your communication skills can have a huge impact on the relationships you manage.

It’s pretty apparent if you possess pathetic communication skills. For instance, people constantly misunderstand what you’re trying to say, you are prone to get into heated debates (even though you may feel like you’re winning), and your emotions run high when you are talking to someone about something that is important to you (and more likely, not positive emotions). Is it any wonder people are less likely to want to be in your presence?

By building your relationship skills, you can develop deeper, more meaningful relationships, which promotes more success, abundance, and happiness in your life.

Some things you might consider in building your relationship skills might be,

When a conversation is heading into difficult territory, avoid bringing up the past. By staying current, you and the other participants are less likely to be defensive of fill like they’re being attacked.

Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What might it look like from their point of view, having lived the life they’ve lived? Sticking to your guns, and not allowing someone to see, think of feel differently, only causes separation, while allowing people to be who they are creates more affinity.

Pay attention to what they’re saying. Use active listening skills by repeating what they’ve said in your own words to acknowledge them and let them know you’re understanding what they’re saying.

When somebody says something that is contrary to what you might believe, or you’re feeling criticized or challenged, don’t ready yourself for a battle. Try not to be so defensive, and respond with an affirmative, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And if they try to pick a fight, don’t let them drag you into destructive banter. Stay your ground and remain positive.

Give up the idea of winning and seek ways you can arrive at compromise. Finding a way to compromise means “everyone wins.” Avoid win/lose conversations or situations, and don’t settle for win/lose compromise where one party is making all the concessions. Make sure both parties give-in and both parties get some of the important things they wanted.

If the conversation is getting heated and emotions are rising, take a break. Agree to do something else for a pre-determined amount of time and return to the subject at hand, after taking a break, when you are refreshed and can revisit the topic with clear heads and hearts.

Blaming someone never accomplishes anything but causing more division. Find ways to take responsibility for whatever you can. This helps to relieve the pressure, plus it gives you more control, the more responsibility you take. Why? Because you’re the only one who can control you.

If you think things are getting away from you, then seek a coach, counselor or consultant who can advise and act as a mediator to break through any barriers you may be facing.

Make time to cultivate your relationships. Don’t let texting or social media be your only connection method. There’s nothing that compares to authentic face-to-face time. Create opportunities for more in-person conversation, leading to a deeper, more meaningful connection.

It’s not just enough to be in the presence of someone, like at a movie, or a conference. Make time for a little face-to-face interaction before, after, or during breaks to communicate and interconnect directly.

If you’re not in the habit of it, be bold enough to freak out your friends and family by calling them via voice phone (no texting allowed, here) for no other reason, just to say, “Hi,” without any agenda, other than to let them know you were thinking about him or her.

If someone is important to you, let them know, even if only in some small way. Send them a note, or some small token of your affection, thanking them for being a positive influence in your life. These people help give your life meaning.

If your relationship is built on a foundation of love, don’t be afraid to let them know, if not by words, then by touching them appropriately while communicating with them, or greet them with a light hug or some other appropriate gesture.