Listen Empathically to Uncover What Really Matters to People
When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to paint my room.
In a house full of eggshell-colored walls, I dreamed of purple. A rich, dark hue.
I wanted my room to feel like it was mine — an expression of my identity.
I came home from school one day to find a surprise.
My parents welcomed ME into MY room, which now featured a bright yellow-flowered bedspread and matching wallpaper border, as well as a tiny television of my very own.
I could tell they were so proud of what they had done; they were so excited to see my reaction.
But I was crestfallen.
You see, their kind gesture only made me feel more out of place in my own domain. It felt even less like me than the plain cream-colored walls.
And, as you might imagine, I reacted like any taken-off-guard preteen might after their personal space has been invaded.
Sure, I was a brat, but I was also hurt.
It’s because I didn’t feel seen or understood.
I loved them for the work and thought that they put into the gesture, but I secretly wished they had done more listening and less wallpaper pasting.
If only they had asked me WHY I wanted to paint my room dark purple, instead of jumping to solve the problem without enough information…then they would have understood what my true concerns were underneath what I was asking for.
If only they had listened with a bit of empathy instead of running to the hardware store, they would have uncovered that I wanted the room to feel more like ME…and they could have involved me in the process of creating that future version of my space.
We do this all the time when we listen to others.
We listen to what they say — the literal words that come out of their mouths — and then we jump to solving problems and fixing.
This type of active listening just isn’t enough. It leaves people feeling “heard” but not seen or understood.
We need to infuse empathy into our listening skills.
Only when we hold space for the other person to speak into can we uncover the feelings beyond what they’re saying, as well as the concerns underneath of it all.
We have the opportunity to discover what really matters to others through the art of empathic listening, and we can only get there when we feel into the conversation instead of trying to fix it.