Empathy is foundational to relationship. Resonating with the emotions in someone’s story – or sharing a story they can relate to – builds a sense of belonging and unity between people. When someone shares a difficulty or vents some frustration, it’s natural to want to express understanding. You want to communicate solidarity and let the person know they’re not alone in their struggle. However, we need to be careful about how we do this.
I was listening to The Art of Charm* Episode 405, which was actually an interview with a former Canadian spy. Adam, if that’s his real name ;), shared a lot about building trust quickly, but one thing stood out:
By the time you’ve said the words “I understand,” you’ve already lost them.
His reasoning was simple: if you truly understand someone, show them. Saying “I understand” is too on the nose, and likely leaves the other person feeling isolated rather than supported. So how do we show someone that we understand them? Use emotion.
When a friend is frustrated about a boss that has unclear expectations, commiserate. Express how frustrating it can be when you have to just guess what someone wants and hope you got it right. Don’t make it about you (by telling your own story of an ambiguous supervisor), but continue reflecting and relating. Your friend will feel understood and supported, and your friendship will be stronger for it.
* You’ll probably notice that I listen to a lot of the same types of podcasts. I’ll probably talk more about why I’ve chosen these podcasts in the future.