–> Have you ever wanted to support someone, but what you said or didn’t say seemed to make things worse?
–> Do you rerun conversations afterward, cringing about what you said, and wishing you could have a “do-over”—even if you aren’t exactly sure what you’d do or say differently?
–> Do you fear conflict, because you’re not sure what turns tension into closeness?
–> Do you avoid reaching out to people because you’re afraid you won’t know what to say?
–> Do you long for your conversations to go deeper, to feel more intimate, to have more meaning, to leave everyone feeling warm and connected and cared for?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be stuck in a “Response Rut,” such as:
Fix-it Response Ruts
—Offering advice/jumping to strategy
—Interviewing/questioning to gather “solutions data”
—Trying to cheer someone up (“Look on the bright side!”)
—Disagreeing/trying to change their mind
Hijacking Response Ruts
—Sharing your own experience before fully hearing theirs
—One upping (“That’s nothing, compared to XX situation!”)
—Feeding the fire by joining them in their judgments (“Those bastards! Sue them!”)
—Sympathizing/pitying (“Poor you! I don’t know what I’d do in your shoes!”)
Avoidance Response Ruts
—Encourage them as a way to end the conversation (“No more fear talk! You can do this!”)
—Negating their experience (“Don’t get so upset! It’s not that bad!”)
—Changing the subject
We all find ourselves responding in these ways sometimes—and they’re not inherently right or wrong. At heart, they’re our attempt to protect ourselves and/or let the other person know we care and that they matter to us.
The questions to ask yourself in each conversation are:
Is the way I’m responding enhancing connection?
Is it deepening intimacy?
Is it enhancing my understanding?
And if not, what are my alternatives?
One alternative to all these responses is to simply “be with” someone:
Meet them where they’re at in this moment, without expectation that they arrive anyplace else.
Offer them warm companionship and emotional attunement.
Seek to understand their experience fully, just as it is.
In other words, are you willing and able to meet them with empathy? With care for their authentic feelings and needs? With an understanding that all of their judgments of themselves, of others, even of you, are simply signals to their beautiful needs?
Wouldn’t we all love to be met with that kind of empathy, as often as possible?
Meeting people in empathy is a powerful way to live compassion and nonviolence. And it’s pretty much the opposite of how most of us have learned to be with ourselves and each other. So we need compassion, patience, and understanding, as we explore and practice new ways of responding that actually deepen intimacy and connection.
Starting this Wednesday night, September 30, in Berkeley, CA, we’ll be starting a new four-week series of Gather Together, Attuning with Empathy to Deepen Intimacy, where we’ll be exploring our Response Ruts and practicing listening and responding with empathy.
We’ll be noticing the impact different responses have on our nervous systems and those of the people we’re listening to, seeking to increasingly choose responses that soothe our bodies and theirs. And we’ll be discussing how these connecting ways of responding can transform our lives, our relationships, and our world. I hope you’ll join us! Register today!
Much love and empathy,