Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”

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I absolutely love this article by Celeste Headlee, which is why I am posting this again on my blogsite.

If you’ve ever just wanted to vent about something in your life that was aggravating you, only to be told by someone, “Oh yes, I know EXACTLY how you feel!”, then endure their recollection of an incident which they believe mimicked yours? Basically, such a reaction flips the focus of the conversation to the other person and diminishes the significance of your experience.

Undoubtedly some of you do this, and you feel that you are being empathetic or helpful, when in reality you are forcing people to listen to your story, while you drown out what they have to say. It can often appear as if you are one-upping the other person with your woeful experiences, even though you honestly believe that you are helping.

Here’s the original article, copied and pasted here for you to read. You can also visit the link directly at:
Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”

Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel”
Sep 21, 2017 / Celeste Headlee

You don’t. And you’re also steering the focus away from someone who probably just wants to be heard. Here’s how to be a more considerate conversation partner, says radio host and writer Celeste Headlee.

A good friend of mine lost her dad some years back. I found her sitting alone outside our workplace, just staring at the horizon. She was absolutely distraught, and I didn’t know what to say to her. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is grieving and vulnerable.

So I started talking about how I grew up without a father. I told her my dad had drowned in a submarine when I was only nine months old and I’d always mourned his loss, even though I’d never known him. I wanted her to realize that she wasn’t alone, that I’d been through something similar and I could understand how she felt.

But after I related this story, my friend snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”

I was stunned and mortified. “No, no, no,” I said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant I know how you feel.”

And she answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”

Often subtle and unconscious, conversational narcissism is the desire to do most of the talking and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself.

She walked away and I stood there feeling like a jerk. I had wanted to comfort her and, instead, I’d made her feel worse. When she began to share her raw emotions, I felt uncomfortable so I defaulted to a subject with which I was comfortable: myself. She wanted to talk about her father, to tell me about the kind of man he was. She wanted to share her cherished memories. Instead, I asked her to listen to my story.

From that day forward, I started to notice how often I responded to stories of loss and struggle with stories of my own experiences. My son would tell me about clashing with a kid in Boy Scouts, and I would talk about a girl I fell out with in college. When a coworker got laid off, I told her about how much I struggled to find a job after I had been laid off years earlier. But when I began to pay more attention, I realized the effect of sharing my experiences was never as I intended. What all of these people needed was for me to hear them and acknowledge what they were going through. Instead, I forced them to listen to me.

Sociologist Charles Derber describes this tendency as “conversational narcissism.” Often subtle and unconscious, it’s the desire to take over a conversation, to do most of the talking, and to turn the focus of the exchange to yourself. Derber writes that it “is the key manifestation of the dominant attention-getting psychology in America.”

He describes two kinds of responses in conversations: a shift response and a support response. The first shifts attention back to yourself, and the second supports the other person’s comment.

Example number 1:

The shift response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Me, too. I’m totally overwhelmed.

The support response
Mary: I’m so busy right now.
Tim: Why? What do you have to get done?

Example number 2:

The shift response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Me, too. These things are falling apart.

The support response
Karen: I need new shoes.
Mark: Oh yeah? What kind are you thinking about?

Shift responses are a hallmark of conversational narcissism — they help you turn the focus constantly back to yourself. But a support response encourages the other person to continue their story. It lets them know you’re listening and interested in hearing more.

We can craftily disguise our attempts to shift focus — we might start a sentence with a supportive remark and then follow up with a comment about ourselves.

The game of catch is often used as a metaphor for conversation. In an actual game of catch, you’re forced to take turns. But in conversation, we often find ways to resist giving someone else a turn. Sometimes, we use passive means to subtly grab control of the exchange.

This tug-of-war over attention is not always easy to track. We can very craftily disguise our attempts to shift focus. We might start a sentence with a supportive comment, and then follow up with a comment about ourselves. For instance, if a friend tells us they just got a promotion, we might respond by saying, “That’s great! Congratulations. I’m going to ask my boss for a promotion, too. I hope I get it.”

Such a response could be fine, as long as we allow the focus to shift back to the other person again. However, the healthy balance is lost when we repeatedly shine the attention back on ourselves.

While reciprocity is an important part of any meaningful conversation, the truth is shifting the attention to our own experiences is completely natural. Modern humans are hardwired to talk about themselves more than any other topic. One study found that “most social conversation time is devoted to statements about the speaker’s own emotional experiences and/or relationships, or those of third parties not present.”

The insula, an area of the brain deep inside the cerebral cortex, takes in the information that people tell us and then tries to find a relevant experience in our memory banks that can give context to the information. It’s mostly helpful: the brain is trying to make sense of what we hear and see. Subconsciously, we find similar experiences and add them to what’s happening at the moment, and then the whole package of information is sent to the limbic regions, the part of the brain just below the cerebrum. That’s where some trouble can arise — instead of helping us better understand someone else’s experience, our own experiences can distort our perceptions of what the other person is saying or experiencing.

The more comfortable you are, the more difficult it is to empathize with the suffering of another.

A study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences suggests that our egos distort our perception of our empathy. When participants watched a video of maggots in a group setting, they could understand that other people might be repulsed by it. But if one person was shown pictures of puppies while the others were shown the maggot video, the puppy viewer generally underestimated the rest of the group’s negative reaction to the maggots.

Study author Dr. Tania Singer observed, “The participants who were feeling good themselves assessed their partners’ negative experiences as less severe than they actually were. In contrast, those who had just had an unpleasant experience assessed their partners’ good experience less positively.” In other words, we tend to use our own feelings to determine how others feel.

Here’s how that translates to your daily conversations: Let’s say you and a friend are both laid off at the same time by the same company. In that case, using your feelings as a measure of your friend’s feelings may be fairly accurate because you’re experiencing the same event. But what if you’re having a great day and you meet a friend who was just laid off? Without knowing it, you might judge how your friend is feeling against your good mood. She’ll say, “This is awful. I’m so worried that I feel sick to my stomach.” You’d respond, “Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. I was laid off six years ago and everything turned out fine.” The more comfortable you are, the more difficult it is to empathize with the suffering of another.

It took me years to realize I was much better at the game of catch than I was at its conversational equivalent. Now I try to be more aware of my instinct to share stories and talk about myself. I try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue. I’ve also made a conscious effort to listen more and talk less.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a friend who was going through a divorce. We spent almost 40 minutes on the phone, and I barely said a word. At the end of our call, she said, “Thank you for your advice. You’ve really helped me work some things out.”

The truth is, I hadn’t offered any advice. Most of what I said was a version of “That sounds tough. I’m sorry this is happening to you.” She didn’t need advice or stories from me. She just needed to be heard.

Excerpted from the new book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee. Published by Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. © 2017 Celeste Headlee.

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People Who Say These 5 Words Have Very Low Emotional Intelligence

Please check out the post at:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/mind-and-soul/people-who-say-these-5-words-have-very-low-emotional-intelligence/ar-AAyz0K5?ocid=spartanntp

I have copied and pasted the article here for you for convenience.

Who agrees with Bill Murphy’s assessment? Who disagrees?

Most people would probably agree with both Bill Murphy and Justin Bariso, and bristle when someone makes the statement, “I know how you feel.” No one truly knows how you feel, because your experience is unique and important. Such a statement does nothing to communicate empathy, but instead alienates the listener. Remember that sharing your particular experience in an effort to comfort the other person detracts from his or her own experience. It’s best to either keep your mouth shut, or just say, “I’m sorry that happened.” Be an ear to bend, not a barometer by which the other person must measure his or her own troubling experience.

By Bill Murphy Jr. of Inc.

They mean the exact opposite of what you think. But only emotionally intelligent people understand why.

The words hit me like a hurricane: “I know how you feel.”

They’re right there on pages 80 and 81 of my colleague Justin Bariso’s new book about emotional intelligence. They’re simple words, and real–and yet as Justin writes, they’re also absolutely the wrong thing to say to those who confide in you with their problems or fears.

These situations are tough, sometimes. You’ve been trusted. You want to develop rapport. You want to act the way somebody with real emotional intelligence would act.

You want to help.

Yet, rather than creating a connection, “I know how you feel” and other phrases like it build a wall between you and the other person.

The phrase suggests that you don’t truly understand what the other person feels at all. (Really, how could you?) It suggests that you feel the need to turn the conversation toward your experience, not his or hers, and that ultimately you don’t really care about that person’s concerns after all.

In other words, this five-word phrase sends a message that’s 100 percent the opposite of what you intend.

So don’t say, “I know how you feel.” Here’s what to do instead.

Shift vs. support

If you’ve read this far, I suspect you really do care about people. But like me perhaps, you don’t always realize the true effects of your words.

The solution, as sociologist Charles Derber suggests, and Celeste Headlee summarizes, is to gauge your responses in real time, and ask yourself whether you’re offering a “shift response” or a “support response.”

What’s the difference?

A shift response involves an attempt to guide the conversation toward your life experiences, and away from the experiences of the person you’re ostensibly listening to and perhaps even trying to help.

A support response sets aside your ego, and instead keeps the focus on the other person’s feelings and experience.

Conversational narcissism

A few examples will make this very clear. In each case below, just imagine that a friend or colleague opens a conversation with the highlighted statement. Then think about how each response would make him or her feel.

1. “My boss doesn’t respect me.”

Shift response: “I went through the exact same thing last year. I wound up leaving and finding a better job.”

Support response: “I’m sorry to hear that. What makes you feel that way?”

2. “If I could just get organized, I’d have the world on a string.”

Shift response: “I know–I have the same problem.”

Support response: “What do you think stops you from being organized?”

3. “I’m so sad since my breakup.”

Shift response: “You just need to get back out there and start dating again.”

Support response: “What do you think stops you from being able to move forward?”

Derber calls the whole phenomenon, at least the part in which well-meaning people shift the discussion to their own experience, “conversational narcissism.”

Is that a $20 phrase to describe a $1 problem? Maybe. But it does make it clear.

“I can imagine…”

As Justin puts it in his book, the successful strategy to communicate effectively and leverage emotional intelligence requires avoiding phrases like these:

“I know exactly how you feel.”

“I’ve been through this before.”

“I completely understand; or, I get it.”

And replacing them instead with things like the following:

“I’m sorry that happened.”

“I can imagine how you may feel.”

“Thanks for sharing this. Tell me more.”

Actually, I might take issue even with “I can imagine how you may feel.” But we’ll leave it in.

Just remember that the whole point here is to acknowledge how hard it is to really put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and instead make clear that you have empathy.

You’re trying to understand–even as you acknowledge that full success might not ever be possible. The true connection that you’re both looking for comes with the well-communicated attempt.

The Delicate Flower and the Bull Who Tramples On It

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I have to apologize in advance if this post sounds like a man-bashing. However, it is common for women to lament that men don’t take the time to just listen to them, and to have empathy when they are emotional.

I have definitely found myself in situations in which I feel like I need to apologize for being emotional or sensitive. I am never allowed to be upset, and I have to swallow everything upsetting thing like a bitter pill. I know that men and women speak different languages, but I will never understand why it is a problem if I happen to quietly voice a concern over an event which made me feel like a boot scraper at the front door. When my feelings are ignored, I can quickly progress from nice and sweet to angry.

Women don’t expect men to agree with them. They expect men to understand and empathize when they feel slighted by an incident. Men don’t want to feel emasculated either, so women should also take heed and pay attention to how they approach men after such an incident. In defense of women everywhere, though, many men tune out the instant a woman says, “What you did/said really hurt me”, and may even turn into ugly, mean bulls who trample over the woman’s emotions. Suddenly, only the man’s perspective matters, and he is never culpable, while the woman is made to feel like a whiny bitch, even if she is calm, gentle, and kind in her approach. It’s like a switch flips in a man’s brain, and a furious instinct to lash out asserts itself. When this happens, no resolution can be found.

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Before you men begin to think that this is about the man or the woman winning an argument, I will tell you that your perspective is really skewed. It isn’t about winning, and it isn’t about you versus the woman. That kind of viewpoint is confrontational, counterproductive, and puts you in a position in which the blinders are still on, and you can’t see anything but your own opinion. Instead of pounding on your chest and tuning out a woman who is in pain, perhaps you could listen to what she is saying and work with her. I can almost guarantee that an agreeable and open approach will yield much better results than resisting everything the woman says to you!