Empathy: The secret to being understood

Photo credit: www.ekgtechniciansalary.org

Valentine’s Day is a memory. The chocolate is eaten and the cards are tucked away. Memories gift the cherished people in your life an everlasting gift that beats even the best dark chocolate! Read on.

Thirteen months after my concussion, I continue to struggle with loud noises. After 5 loud songs in aqua aerobics class, I asked the teacher to turn down the music. She replied, “Ok, but everyone else is fine.” I wanted to scream, “So why don’t you care about me?”

I had an ingrown hair on the back of my neck that turned into a cyst that needed to be removed by a plastic surgeon. To prepare for this outpatient surgery I had to take my shirt off. I told the plastic surgeon I am freezing in here. His reply was, “I like it that way.” I wanted to scream, “Why don’t you care about me?”

I had been having this strange toe pain. The podiatrist thought I may have a Morton’s neuroma which sounded like there were minimal treatment options and cortisone shots. I exclaimed, “This sucks!” The podiatrist stated, “I have had mine for ten years.” I wanted to scream, “I don’t care about your toes! Why don’t you just care about me?”

What was missing in each and every interaction? EMPATHY! Empathy is respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Empathy can calm, validate, and honor people.

Unfortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait. It is a skill that must be mastered. Although I must say some people, like my web designer Stephanie Hofhenke, my sisters Michele Barney, and my friend

Gaye Lindfors, exhibit empathy and I love being around them.

Empathy requires emptying our minds of our stuff and focusing our full attention on the other person’s message. We need to listen with our whole being – our body, mind, and soul and give the other person enough time and space to express themself and really feel understood.

Marshal Rosenberg developed a model for Non –Violent Communication and says have a “fix it” or “helper” mentality gets in the way of empathy. Rosenberg identifies these other behaviors that get In the way of empathy: advising, one-upping, educating, story-telling, shutting down, sympathizing, explaining, correcting or interrogating. Allow others the opportunity to fully express themselves before turning your attention to a solution.

 When We Try to Help

When we proceed too quickly to what people maybe are requesting, we may not convey our genuine interest in their feelings and needs. They may get the impression that we are in a hurry or we just want to fix their problem. Remember the initial message is often the tip of the iceberg, which is often later expressed with more powerful feelings. When we are quiet and listening we are allowing them to fully explore and express themselves. How do we know empathy is working? The person usually stops talking as they have felt fully listened to and understood. Wow!

Key Elements for empathic acknowledgement

♥ Does not interrupt

♥ Does not give advice

♥ Does not change the subject and talk about your own plans

♥ Does not voice disapproval of the other

♥ Tunes into others communications (what is being said, and their feelings)

♥ Listens with your head and your heart

♥ Focuses on what the other person is saying and the meaning it has to them

Source: Empathy, Listening Skills and Touching Another Heart by Dr. Lawrence J. Bookbinder

rosenberg model

We are responsible for how we feel. No one else is responsible for how we feel. If our values are stepped on, we experience negative feelings. The connection between people is the key. Honesty and empathy are keys to the connection. Sympathy focuses on my-self. Empathy means we care about the other person.


There are two formulas:

♥ Expressing = when you are talking

♥ Empathizing = when you are listening







When I see / hear________________



I feel_______________



Because I need_______________



So are you willing to_____________??





When you see / hear_______________



Are you feeling______________?



Because you need / value______________



Do you want me or yourself to_____________?



Here a few examples to show you how to use this formula and get your needs met. The request must be an opened question not a closed question and must avoid “why” as it puts the other person on the defense.


“My boss is negative”


You talk to me about our unhappy team members


I feel frustrated that people may think I am contributing to their stress.

I don’t feel listened to.


I have a need to be acknowledged and be heard.

I have a need to accomplish.



How will you acknowledge and focus on what I have accomplished in addition to what I have not accomplished?

How can you provide me respectful understanding? (empathy)

How will you back me up and give me your 100% support? (What action will you take? How will you show this to me?)


“Husband wakes up wife when he comes to bed late”


When you fall asleep on the couch and then go to your office and come to bed at 2 am, I wake up and I can’t get back to sleep. 


I feel angry and tired the next day. 


I don’t feel respected. I have a need for respect.


What can you do to help me get undisturbed sleep starting at 11 pm for the next 2 weeks until my half marathon?



“Boyfriend makes comments that make me feel judged by him”


I accidentally scheduled an evening with you and my friend. When I made a mistake, you casually stated, “Way to go” implying that I really messed things up. 


I feel judged and sad when you say, “Way to go.”


I have a need to be liked and to please others. 


In the future what can you do to help me when I accidentally double-book an evening?


“We are living together unmarried and it bothers me”


We have been together two and half years and have both expressed our love and integrated our whole lives together with all of our kids and yet we still have not tied the knot.


I feel sad and have a sense of uneasiness like I am waiting to move my life forward and become the next part of me. I’m not single and I’m not married…what am I?


I have a need to be acknowledged and for commitment.


How can we together create the financial plan to buy the diamond?


Listen without interruption. Refrain from solving problems before asked and most important put yourself in their shoes. And ask for what you need using the four step formula. It works like magic. You teach people how to treat you. Remember the best things in life cannot be seen or touched, only felt! I can’t wait to hear how you give and receive empathy. Here to help!

6 thoughts on “Empathy: The secret to being understood”

  1. Dear Chere, You always pop into my life with your wisdom, exactly the moment when I need you. I needed this wisdom on empathy. Thanks and love you for being in my life.

    1. Gita thanks for giving me positive vibes to start my morning out right! The formula is life changing for my clients. If you want a list of more examples let me know and I can email it to you! love Chere

  2. Hi Cheri,

    Lots of great information pertinent to my life, especially right now.

    Would you be willing to send me a list of more examples?!

  3. Hi, Chere. I’m so excited that you are sharing Nonviolent Communication with your peeps. It meets my need for compassion and partnership. Do you remember when I did a presentation on it to the Minnesota Coaches Association? Good times.

      I am so excited you are so excited. Yes I still have the handouts from the NVC talk at the MCA meeting. You always give me so much compassion and empathy which is your gift to others Scottie Lewis. I LOVE you Scottie!

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