An “I” For An “I”

I have been thinking about empathy today, and the value in listening.

In conversation, when someone is speaking about themselves, allow them to. Listen. Engage them with dialogue that is useful to them. Demonstrate that you have heard what they have said. Validate it. Consider what is being said and ways you can support, reassure, or enlighten the person you are speaking with.

Being a good listener or a supportive friend does not mean that you have to agree with what is being said, but your response, whatever it is, will be best received if you demonstrate that you are putting the speaker first. You hear them and your aim is solely to help.

If you have a relatable story that involves a personal experience, the best way to share it is to make it short and to segue right back to the speaker (for example, “I raise this because I think it gives some context to your experience . . . .”). The more generous you are in your response, the more in tune you are with what the speaker is going through, the more likely it is that you both walk away having learned something.

“When we respond instead by talking about ourselves, when we exchange an “I” story for an “I” story, we are talking past each other. We are competing for voice. Nothing gets done this way. No one walks away better for it.”

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