Being Empathetic, Not Expedient

Something hit me this morning as I thought more about communication and the small decisions we make around our conversations everyday.

I was thinking about how various conversations went with my children and wife the previous day.  My side of the conversations skewed toward the typical male tendency to be expedient and instructive vs. being empathetic.

I listened, sifted through the facts and what I thought I heard. That part is fine.

But then…. I provided solutions and and my (ahem) knowledge. I’d like to say ‘wisdom’ but I’m not so sure.

There’s nothing wrong with instruction. There’s nothing wrong with departing hard-earned insight to others, even my wife and children.

But if most conversations center on offering advice, then we’ll end up with a very different type of relationship than if I listen more and teach less. I can’t help but think that if my children and wife feel heard and cared for our in conversations that it would knit us much more closely together than if I continually try to instruct. One of those creates acceptance and intimacy, despite faults and struggles. The other creates the possibility that you need to heed my teaching before I will give you the ‘A’.

Here are some brainstormy suggestions to keep your side of the street clean and empathetic:

  • Don’t try to instruct when instruction isn’t requested
  • When you feel yourself a bit uncomfortable with the emotion of the situation, realize that ‘instruction’ is a way out, not a way deeper.
  • If you find yourself thinking “They shouldn’t feel that way!!!” then shut your face because they do and they don’t want anyone telling them they’re wrong about it.
  • Don’t even do the active listening thing where you drop ‘uh-huhs’ and ‘yesses’ the whole time. It’s like a tell-tale sign that you know you’re supposed to be listening and want the other person to think you’re listening but you’re really creating the outline for your response.
  • Put your phone down (not directly related to this, but this is a brainstorm and if you have your phone out during a conversation put it down).
  • Ask at least three rounds of questions before even thinking about giving advice.
  • If something is burning in you to say, ask permission before dropping it on them.

I’d love to hear more suggestions. If you have them, drop them below.

A quick note: I’m not a professional therapist, counselor, coach, etc. I’m just a guy that observes as much as possible. Maybe too much. Take this advice with a grain of salt, but take notice of your interactions and figure out a way to make them better. No matter what.


Listen to Andy Stanley’s ever so practical (whether you’re a person of faith or not) series Me and My Big Mouth

Seek first to understand then be understood is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve never read it, give it a shot.

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