Part of the human condition is a desire to be understood. We want the foremost people in our lives to understand what our daily existence is like. The fear of abandonment is less prevalent when someone notices whether we are joyful, fearful, sad or if we are disappointed, discouraged or hopeless. Therapists are trained to seek out and identify the emotional life of others. This is not the case outside of the therapeutic relationship. The development of empathic skill is an asset in any of our relationships.
This is not such a daunting task. The achievement of empathic accuracy is secondary to empathic effort. The difference is significant. Empathic accuracy demands a precise identification of the others emotional state. Empathic effort signal to the other that we wish to understand them and we are making that wish clear. The difference is the same as asking a closed end question versus an open-ended question. Emotional effort, like open ended digestions, offer a rich path to healthy dialog.
My practice has disclosed that both men and women gather more satisfaction with a communicated perception of effort by the other than through accurate identification of the present emotion. The emotionality, often present, is initially difficult to determine. Emotional accuracy must be preceded by emotional effort. Men give high marks for relationship satisfaction when have confidence in their ability to read the others positive emotions. Is interior dialog goes something like this; “I clearly see that she is content in this relationship. That contributes to my satisfaction.” For women, relationship satisfaction is tied to the others ability to read their negative emotionality. For women it goes something like this; “I know that he recognizes and understands the unpleasant emotions that I’m feeling. This contributed to my satisfaction.” For men it is the ability to identify positive emotions in the other and for women it is the ability of the other to accurately read their negative emotionality.
That is the goal. How to achieve that goal is through verbal and non-verbal communication. Verbally the empathic effort is conveyed by paraphrasing and summing up. Non verbally empathic effort is accomplished with good eye contact, body posture that signals attention. Assertive communication is foremost. For example “Tell what you are experiencing emotionally.” “Tell me what happened so I can understand what you are going through..” “It is important to me that I understand your emotional life.” This is the emotional effort that leads to emotional accuracy.
Perhaps empathic accuracy will feel gratifying, but I suggest that the emotional effort is more valuable because it signals an unmistakable desire to see and hear the other emotionally. Clients that experience this type of connection report a “powerful bonding with the other.”
My position is clear: While emotional accuracy is the ultimate goal, emotional effort is the swiftest path. Verbal communication through active listening is required coupled with non-verbal communication through eye contact and posture. The reward is “I know that I matter when the other is making a sincere effort to know and understand my interior life.”
Edward L. Oriole LCPC CADC NCC
Staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
3205 North Wilke Rd. Suite 112
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
Tel: 847 253 9769