The Dance of Communication: Part 4
Over the past six weeks or so, I have been writing about Imago Dialogue and sharing with all of you its amazing tools. Reflecting on my amazing, though not perfect, relationship with Kim, I give credit to the Imago Dialogue tools. By using the tools of intentional communication, we learned how to communicate with each other in an intentional way. I was also able to effect change when supervising at a local high school with employees where we did not see eye to eye. I believe that intentional communication would be an incredible tool for us as people to use in our personal lives as well as with people where we do not share the same ideology.
Shortly after the 2016 election, I saw a video that featured an interview with Jonathan Haidt, professor of psychology at New York University. In this interview, Haidt declares that the largest divide in the United States is not a divide of race; it’s a division between those who align with red or republican voting and those who align themselves with blue or democratic politics. I think back to the holidays of 2016 where so many people were scared, anxious, and concerned about going home for the holidays because of having conversations with friends and family who do not share their political ideology. Believe it or not, this was not always the case in this country. Haidt goes on to say that we avoid speaking to or living near people who do not share our ideology. For example, if you watched Megan Phelps-Roper’s TED Talk in my last e-newsletter, you can see how intentional conversation and genuine curiosity from Megan’s conversation partners led to deeper conversations between both parties. This authentic, intentional conversation caused Megan to question beliefs that she was taught by growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church. This allowed her to safely question all of her rigid beliefs, hence her identity. Click here to revisit Megans’ talk.
Let’s review the steps of Imago Dialogue. As Marriage Counselor Barbara Reichlin notes:
The Dialogue is built upon the premise that while we humans are designed to believe there is just one “reality” out there, (naturally the one we perceive), the truth is, each person has their own unique reality and their own legitimate experience of the world. What’s more, in Imago, the belief is that each individual’s “reality” is just as valid as any other person’s.
So, Intentional Dialogue consists of three steps: mirroring, validation, and empathy. Empathy is the last step of this process. Although, in my opinion validating is certainly an aspect of empathy. Empathy is the aspect of Imago that allows two people to transcend their separateness, even if only for a moment, in order to have authentic connection. The piece of empathy offers tremendous healing ability. In Imago, empathy recognizes the emotions in the other person. This is the place where the listener does his or her best to put oneself in the other’s shoes and tries to comprehend what it must have felt like for the other person to experience the situation that he or she is describing. This is where connection happens. Empathy in and of itself is a sacred meeting of two people to unite in their shared humanity. As Martha Beck so poetically puts it:
If you want to feel that you belong in the world, a family, or any relationship, you must tell your story. But if you want to see into the hearts of other beings, your first task is to hear their stories. Many people are gifted storytellers. Only the empathic are true storyhearers (Beck, n.d.)
The art of people who are truly empathetic is that they are curious about another person and want to listen as another shares his or her tale of woe. Then the empathetic individual takes the leap to try to understand how this felt emotionally for the other person as he or she experienced it.
How Do I Show Empathy to Another?
I realize that some of this is abstract, and you still might not know what this process looks like. This is why I believe communication skills are something to be practiced! I might begin an empathetic comment with someone like, “I imagine that as a result of this situation that you felt . . . .” Another line might be, “I imagine that you are feeling . . . .” However, at this point, I don’t want to assume how another person is feeling and believe that I “know.” So, after throwing out my empathetic hypothesis, I always ask, “Is that how you are or were feeling?”
- Think of a time when you shared something personal and vulnerable and you didn’t feel that anyone understood. What did that feel like?
- Think of a time you shared something personal and vulnerable and you truly felt understood? What did that feel like?
- Which response would you rather experience from others? Which response do you want others to feel when they are sharing with you?
There are so many good things to share with all of you regarding empathy. I love this list of the characteristics by Theresa Wiseman. I believe it sums up the complex concept of empathy to a T.
Brené Brown made this awesome video that I always love sharing with folks. She speaks of empathy and illustrates it so simply and beautifully. Enjoy!
Also, I have been taking Brené Brown’s current online class titled “Heartfelt: A Course on the Power of Apologizing.” She does this course with Clinical Psychologist Harriet Lerner. I wanted to make you all aware that this resource is available. It’s so powerful! Check it out!
Once again, Prince Ea did not disappoint me in his latest video. He challenges all of us to look beyond the exterior of another person and to truly listen and value them as a human. In my mind, his video speaks of the openness that is necessary from all of us to be empathetic to anyone. This is a video he made for a Fox show called Shots Fired.
Until next time,
Safe Space Life Coaching