Understanding Their Feelings. Set aside your feelings for the moment and concentrate on the other person’s. Listen to their feelings with curiosity about what is upsetting them, even if they are misinterpreting what you said or over-reacting to you. Respond to their feelings with understanding and empathy if you can. This means resonating with their feelings and their perceived reason for feeling that way.
Let them know that you understand them by reflecting back what they say or paraphrasing it. For example, “You are feeling angry at me because what I said felt judgmental to you.” Ask them questions to draw them out further about this. “What was it that felt judgmental?”
This is not easy to do and can only work if you are in Self. Watch for parts popping up and interfering with your being able to listen with an open heart. Work on returning to Self in all the ways we have used, and call a time out if you can’t, so you can listen to your parts first.
Guessing about their Feelings. If they aren’t talking or if they are expressing themselves by focusing entirely on you, then you must do something to get to their feelings before you can empathize with them. Try to guess what they are feeling and experiencing. What might you have done that upset them? What emotions might they be feeling? What needs of theirs aren’t getting met. How might they be interpreting your behavior that is bothering them?
Communicate your guesses by asking about them. For example, “Are you feeling hurt because you think I don’t care about you?” Even if your guess is wrong they are likely to feel that you want to understand them. They will often tell you what they are feeling, or you can then ask.
What not to ask about:
- Make sure that your guesses are about what they are feeling on the surface, which means they are consciously aware of them. They are more likely to be able to agree with those.
- Your guesses should also be about feelings that they would feel OK about having. For example, if you are talking with someone who would be ashamed to be frightened, don’t ask them if they are scared.
- Don’t guess about their underlying motivations or deep-seated psychological issues. Most people don’t like being psychologized in this way. For example, don’t ask them if their abandonment issue is up. Don’t ask if they are really trying to push you away.
- Don’t ask them if they are upset about something completely different from what they are saying they are upset about. For example, don’t ask if they are upset about their daughter and taking it out on you.