WHEN EMPATHY MEANS USING THE F WORD…
Have you ever responded in a work situation with a resounding “f***ing hell”?
Because it felt like the right intervention at the time – a gut-led response to a discussion about how life can be really rubbish sometimes.
When we talk about empathy and what that looks like, someone blurting out “f***ing hell” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. It’s certainly not from a textbook! But, sometimes it absolutely qualifies.
Because while people have a certain idea about what empathy looks like, the reality is that it comes in many different forms.
Take this example – some people say that, when dealing with someone angry, the best way to show empathy and de-escalate the situation is by talking in a very calm voice, very slowly repeating back what that person had said to you.
But the truth is that, for many of us, that approach just grinds your gears…
Because it sounds so patronising! And for many of us, it would make us even more annoyed.
So no, empathy absolutely does not have to mean talking down to someone.
Here at TCC, some of our most popular training is on how to use therapeutic skills such as empathy for lawyers and other professionals. People working in the field, in high-pressure, fast-paced environments. These are situations where it’s hard for anyone to remain calm and unruffled.
And the key message is always this – that empathy is all about ATTUNEMENT.
It’s very hard to actually ‘teach’ attunement. It has to be practiced in the moment. It has to be FELT.
And it requires a certain nimbleness. You have to be able to pick up when an intervention you’ve made hasn’t been received the way you’d hoped. And then change course accordingly.
It’s about walking alongside that person and looking at the world through their pair of glasses 👓 .
It’s a tightrope – you need to be vibrating on their frequency. So it’s not always appropriate to display supreme calmness if they’re really angry – you might even seem robotic 🤖 or sedated 😪.
But also PLEASE don’t just repeat what they’ve said. Or use the old cliché of “tell me how that makes you feel”. People can spot it a mile away and it’s well annoying.
And, remember, in the right circumstances, a well-placed “f***Ing hell” may just help!
What does empathy look like to you?