Thoughtful Communication: Empathy in Conflict

We all have feelings that I would call conflict emotions such as anger, irritation, and bitterness.  These emotions arise for a variety of reasons that stem from our past experiences, strong values, unmet expectations, and misunderstandings.  Just like me, I am sure you can reflect on your own experiences of conflict emotions within yourself and others.

What do we do with these intense emotions when they emerge in others?

I am working on empathizing in these situations.  Empathy is the ability to share another person’s experiences and emotions.  That is the opposite to what I want to do.  I want to defend myself, disregard other’s perspectives, or leave the situation.  Yet, I am curious what might happen if I can restrain my natural tendencies and empathize.

What does that look like?

First, I want to stay engaged in the conversation by gently leaning in and keeping an open posture.  Second, I want to sincerely understand the other person’s feelings and perspectives by clarifying what I see and hear.  Finally, I want to draw out more insights by providing attentive silence and staying composed.

What doesn’t this mean?

Also, I must realize what empathy doesn’t mean.  Empathy does not mean agreement.  My internal wiring says if I empathize, I am agreeing.  This is not necessarily true.  Next, empathy does not mean changing my position.  I can have a different perspective, hold to my perspective, and still try to understand other’s emotions and views.  Finally, empathy does not always mean withholding my perspective.  Granted, sometimes, restraining words is necessary.  However, if I can maintain my composure and share in a respectful and authentic manner, there may be better receptiveness.

Application Question

What are your thoughts regarding empathy in conflict?