Observe without Evaluating - Empathic Communication

Empathic Communication

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Empathic Communication is about having heart-felt conversation with others, where both parties strive to feel heard and understood by each other without judging or criticising. The other’s point of view may be very different to your own but it does not mean it is wrong or right. What matters is simply our feelings about it. 

When we feel deeply hurt or disappointed by another person’s behaviour and our needs have not been fully met, our critical minds and thinking can turn to making the other person bad or wrong and our evaluation of them may be inaccurate. Being in a space to hear their part of the story fully and with an open mind, can be a powerful process for true understanding and deeper connection. 

In a society where we are not encouraged to own and express our feelings, this form of communication is not taught and encouraged enough. We fail to really listen to others and understand their needs as well as our own and find a way to meet each other half way where possible. 

What Marshall Rosenberg, (American psychologist, and world-reknowned peace maker) was teaching us in his poem above, was to express our feelings without damning or shaming the other person.

The chart below may help us to clearly identify which emotions we may be feeling at any given time when we face conflict.


Primary Emotions Chart

Primary Emotions chart

Own And Share Your Feelings First

When you feel disappointed by the way someone else has behaved towards you, try first to identifyl the emotions that you are feeling before you speak to them, so you can clearly communicate this to them. Take a cooling off period if necessary.

So that when you do speak to them and share what’s been happening for you can begin with owning those feelings….“When you did this….I felt very hurt.”

This is disarming and prevents the other person from becoming defensive. It allows the other person to empathise with your feelings and opens the space for them to also offer their side of what happened or apologise for their behaviour. They are more likely to offer a different way to behave next time.

Criticising (by perhaps wrongly interpreting) what you made of the behaviour simply makes them defensive; they may feel anger or shame which shuts them down completely. Causing anyone to feel feel shame or anger never brings the best outcome. 

Learning new ways of communicating our feelings and needs are so rewarding. 

Owning our own feelings can feel vey vulnerable and exposed initially but with practice, and a much better outcome in relationships, we learn to persevere. We can see why Marshall Rosenberg calls it non-violent communication. In time it becomes a healthy habit and we notice how much our close relationships thrive.

The 3 Step Process of Empathic Communication.

Resolving conflict between two people can be very tricky and often it is avoided until it gets too ‘loaded’ and either becomes passive aggressive or explosive. 

One very beautiful exercise I share with my in my workshops is this 3 Step Process of Empathic Communication.

Two people who wish to resolve an issue between them invite a third party to  also present, as a referee. A relaxed meeting is then  scheduled. 

Each person takes their turn to talk and the other listens completely with an open heart.

Then they practice the 3 stages of Empathic Communication as outlined below :

1. Empathic listening

The first person who is going to express his/her feelings holds the conch ( a symbol to show that it is her trun to speak. A set time is outlined, 10-20 minutes as agreed.

The other person listens intently without any interruption. Listening with the whole body and mind to fully hear and understand what is being said.

2. Paraphrasing

Once the speaker has finished, the other person repearts back what he/she has just heard. This allows the speaker to hear their own thoughts as well as to feel that he/she has been fully understood. 

A few of examples of how to get started with this would be :

  • So, if I am understanding you correctly you are saying…
  • What I’m hearing is…
  • You seem…
  • You must have felt…
  • You feel…about…

The listener may also check to ensure that he/she has correctly received the message and of not invites the speak to clarify further.

3. Empathising

This is where the listener not only paraphrases but also adds a little more understanding to what was heard as to how the person must have felt. This shows a deeper level of empathy and understanding.

The listener/speak roles are then reversed.

The ‘referee’ is there to ensure that each party gets his/her own fair hearing.

The process is profound and incredibly effective.

Developing the skill of communicating authentically and with love is truly a worthwhile investment. We have to want to do it ourselves if we value relationship enough.

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