We’ve looked at the first two components of the Safe Conversations practice, which are mirroring and validation. To re-cap, mirroring – reflecting what your partner has said and checking for accuracy – helps ensure that you’ve heard them and that they feel heard. Validation of another’s experience, whether you agree with them or not, lets them know you are someone with whom they can feel safe to share their feelings and ideas.

Today’s topic, empathy, is the final component of the three-step Safe Conversations process. It’s the last piece of the puzzle that ensures a safe, effective conversation resulting in connection rather than conflict or confusion.

Empathy is frequently confused with its cousin, Sympathy. They often are inaccurately assumed to be synonymous, but it’s important to understand the distinctions between them.

Dr. Harville Hendrix, who with Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, is the co-creator of the Safe Conversations practice and the globally-renown therapeutic model, Imago Therapy, shares this insight about empathy:

“Empathy is the capacity for one individual to imagine or experience the emotional state of another person even when they have not had a similar experience. If they have had a similar experience and a similar emotion, this is sympathy. Sympathy occurs when there is a parallel experience. Empathy is when the experience has not been parallel.”

So, we see that empathy is used to mean imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that one does not actually have in the moment. This is profoundly important in relating to others in a deeply connecting way.

Few things make us as vulnerable as sharing our true feelings with someone, which can be scary; but when the other person experiences our feelings with us, or can at least imagine them, and can put them into accurate words, we have a sense of connecting with that person that evokes safety and trust. This is about being present with each other in the energetic field that continually oscillates between us, where relationship exists and is either nurtured or not. We call this the Space Between. It’s where true connecting takes place, and we’ll be sharing more about it in upcoming messages.

In summary:

  • We mirror each other for clarity, accuracy, and to begin building trust.
  • We validate each other’s experiences to differentiate us as individuals while acknowledging that both our experiences are valid, worthy of respect, and an inextricable part of what makes us, Us. Validation helps us bridge the gap between our differences.
  • We empathize with each other’s feelings to better understand and relate to each other; to access the power of connecting – where relationship thrives, and transformation happens.

Use these three steps in the Safe Conversations practice daily and experience the joy of relationships that shift from conflict to connection.