5 Empathise – Seek first to understand
People are more inclined to engage constructively in conversations about disagreements or conflict when they feel that they are understood and when they believe that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say – they feel safe.
Our approach assumes you cannot take responsibility for how others decide to react. You can only take responsibility for how you behave and what you think.
However, as much as we might like to, it is actually quite impossible to remove the person and the emotion from difficult conversations and conflict. Accepting this, we can be OK with our own feelings of discomfort and be open to the emotions that the other person will be feeling.
Rather than trying to ‘control’ their feelings, it is more constructive to acknowledge their expressed emotion and invite people to share what it is they are feeling. BUT, be conscious of not taking responsibility for how they choose to feel – even if their decision is unconscious.
When people feel unsafe, they tend to respond by either withdrawing or attacking. High emotion is a real indicator of attachment (investment) and/or fear. A lack of mutual respect will create distrust and insecurity. Respect is like air – you don’t notice it when it is there, but when it is not it is all you think about.
So rather than saying: “Sue I think your too emotional – calm down, don’t take this personally, get a grip…” Imagine how you feel when someone says this to you. It completely invalidates you and your feelings. Do you feel like listening to the other person??
Instead, try something like this:
“Wow Sue – you sound really angry. I am interested in how you feel – can you talk about how you are feeling right now – or would you like to catch-up later?”
This validates her, it is non-judgmental, and provides her an opportunity to realise how she is coming across, clarify how she is actually feeling, and once she starts this thinking process, she starts tapping into her pre-frontal cortex and starts ‘thinking’ about why she is feeling like she is.
Often, people just need you to know how they are feeling and for you to acknowledge their feelings. You do not have to agree with their emotions or behaviour.