When friends, family or acquaintances present you with a problem, it’s easy to lapse into behaviors that, although well-meaning, serve to block you from hearing the other person’s experience. You’d be better off following the words of this inside-out saying: “Don’t just do something; stand there.” Here are ten things you should try not to do:
1. Counsel. Don’t put forth solutions (until asked). Try to listen and reflect back the person’s experience.
2. Defend. When you explain, justify or rationalize, you invalidate the other’s experience. You can create a time to offer your experience, but for now, just listen.
3. Shut down. This happens in parenting when we say things like: “Stop crying. It’s not that bad.” Children are more likely to stop crying when they feel they’ve been heard.
4. One-up. Saying, “Oh, that’s nothing! Listen to what happened to me!” gives the message, “Your experience doesn’t count.”
5. Reassure. It’s OK for people to feel their feelings. When we try to console (“It’s not your fault; you did the best you could…”), we take people out of their feelings.
6. Pity. Sympathy and pity (“Oh, you poor thing!”) are very different from empathy, which is simply a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.
7. Commiserate. Sharing stories of your own similar experiences is not showing empathy; it turns the focus away from the person with the problem.
8. Correct. First, just listen. After the other person feels fully understood, then see about correcting any misunderstandings or inaccurate impressions.
9. Enlighten. Don’t attempt to educate unless your opinion is asked.
10. Interrogate. Too many questions distract from the feelings at hand.
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