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Tactics for a Better Relationship: How to Fuel Empathy and Cooperation

When people feel bad, they feel that their pain is so bad that no one can really understand it.

Sometimes the best way to show understanding is to admit that we can’t understand just how bad a person feels. That’s why a person who is hurting would probably rather have us say, “Your pain must be awful. I wish I could understand just how you feel.”

The key to understanding the other person is identifying their feeling. These feelings can be implied in body language or tone. So it’s helpful to make the implied explicit by commenting in what we observe:

“You sound angry, you are shouting.”
“You look sad, you are crying.”
“You seem worried, you are trembling.”

After we have listened carefully (and watched carefully) to learn how a person is feeling, we might do one of the following:

Acknowledge or identify the feeling.
-”You feel strongly about this!”
-”You seem to feel very concerned (hurt, upset, confused).”

Invite more discussion.
-”I would like to understand how you are feeling. Will you tell me more?”
-”Uh huh.”

Understand that the person’s pain is special for that person.
-”I wish I could understand better how you feel.”
-”Ouch. I don’t know if I can even guess how terrible you feel”

Use active listening.
-”Let me see if I understand. You feel like…? “
-”It sounds like you feel lonely (confused, sad, etc.).”

Many things we think show understanding actually have the opposite effect. They make a person feel mad or misunderstood.  If a person’s comments are continually passed off as being of little consequence, the person will begin to feel that his/her opinions are not important. Below are some examples of things that we should avoid:

Don’t give advice.
-”What you need to do is….”
-”If you would stop being such a baby you wouldn’t have that trouble.”

Don’t talk about your own feelings and experiences instead of theirs.
-”I’ve been there too.”

Don’t make the person’s pain seem unimportant.
-”Everybody suffers. What makes you so special?”
-”Why don’t you grow up?”
-”Stop that. You’re driving me crazy.”

Some other pitfalls to avoid are statements the start with: “You always… You never… You said… You should have… Why didn’t you…”

These all come across as accusations or criticism. They will automatically put other people on the defensive, and instead of finding resolution, we will end up fighting about the last 10 things that pissed us off.

Another tactic to avoid is making threats or holding the relationship hostage by giving ultimatums. This only serves as a form of manipulation. These behaviors antagonize another’s fear of rejection, abandonment and loss. The attempt to scare someone into agreement leads to resentment due to feeling controlled by seeking submission rather then compromise.

Avoid using “Shoulds”: The word should implies we know what is best and if they don’t do as they should they are guilty of being wrong. Replace with, “I prefer…” Remember everyone’s perception of reality is their “reality” or “truth”. There is no agreed upon right or wrong, good or bad. We only have personal preferences and taste.

We can make an active effort to look at what we can control and what we are responsible for in our relationships. We cannot expect others to read our mind and must avoid the belief that they “should know…” without us saying it. We cannot change anyone else. We are powerless over everyone and everything but ourself and our efforts. No one can make us act out aggressively, we have a choice and we control our decisions.

Tactics for a Better Relationship: How to Fuel Empathy and Cooperation

Aaron Karmin


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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2018). Tactics for a Better Relationship: How to Fuel Empathy and Cooperation. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2018/02/tactics-for-a-better-relationship-how-to-fuel-empathy-and-cooperation/

 

Last updated: 2 Mar 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Mar 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.