EMPATHY INSPIRES ACTION

Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf

In the safe and trusting environment created through empathic listening, we are inspired to explore deeply, which often leads to problem-resolution. We may have a great idea how to help someone resolve a challenge, or at least think we do. Reflective listening in sattva guna is based on the assumption that each of us possesses the capacity to handle his or her life with excellence. The necessary qualities and knowledge are within us. Usually it is more powerful to facilitate a person in generating his own solution rather than simply presenting him ours. If I arrive at an idea, I am more likely to commit to it and apply it in my life if it has not been provided by someone else. And often we find that our “great ideas” for someone else aren’t actually so great. Sometimes, because we did not carefully listen, our solutions are based on mistaken assumptions.

In the following case scenario Susan, supported by the reflections of the coach, augments her self-realization and concretizes an action plan.

Susan: I don’t want to encourage him. I think he may fall in love with me. Actually, he said that he is worried about this.

Coach: You’re afraid to give him encouragement. He expressed that he is worried about falling in love with you, and this scares you.

Susan: Yes. At the same time I like him. I don’t want to be unkind. I don’t know what to do.

Responding to the coach’s reflection of content and feeling, Susan broadens her exploration of the matter.

Coach: You want to be nice to him. You don’t want to be mean. You’re afraid to hurt his feelings. And also you’re fearful to attract him to fall in love. This is a conflict inside you.

Susan: Yes. I don’t know how to be with him. Before I was very natural.

Coach: You had a good friendship, and now you’re uncertain how to be with this person. You don’t want to falsely encourage him, and you don’t want to lose him from your life.

Susan: From my side also, I am afraid…to fall in love. But I value our friendship, and don’t want to lose that.

Like peeling the layers of an onion, Susan’s exploration, facilitated by the active listening of the coach, leads her to see beneath the surface of what she initially presented, and to focus on her fears and desires related to a romantic relationship.

Coach: You’re attracted to him, and you’re open to the possibility of a romantic relationship developing. Also, you are worried about losing your friendship with him.

Susan: And this has happened before. In my confusion I just pushed these men friends away. I would be mean.

Susan recognizes a pattern in her behavior, across time and relationships.

Coach: Your habit from the past is that you’d be unkind, and create a situation where they’d leave.

Susan: Yes, but I know I don’t have to be like that.

Through this empathic dialogue, Susan opens to new possibilities about how she can act in relationships. She does not need to be unkind or harsh to others, as a reaction to her own confusion and fear.

Coach: I hear that you really don’t want to put up a wall that will prevent you from whatever relationship could develop, and you know you don’t have to.

Susan: It’s a fear of myself, not trusting myself. Because I don’t trust myself, I don’t assert myself, and play games and put up walls. I don’t want to cause pain.

Coach: You’re scared to really stand for what’s true for you.

Susan: Yes. And it’s important for me to speak with him. I have been so withheld with him, and I do want to directly address this.

Susan clarifies that she wants to directly express herself to her friend about their relationship. For Susan, a result of being heard and understood is that she finds the courage to be clear, to abandon former ineffective relationship habits and to cultivate healthier ways of communicating and relating.

Coach: Just like you’re expressing yourself to me, you want to be able to do that with him, to talk with your friend about what’s going on between you and him.

Susan: He has shown a lot of courage. He did his part in sharing vulnerably with me. Now it’s time for me to do my part.

Coach: You want to reciprocate. He showed courage and you admire that, and now you want to be courageous with him. What’s your plan for this?

Susan: I will talk with him, by next Monday. As soon as possible.

Susan moves from confusion to clarity, and from commitment to action, through this transformative dialogue. Now, for the sake of comparison, suppose the listener had initially responded in the following way:

Susan: I don’t want to encourage him. I think he may fall in love with me. Actually, he said that he is worried about this.

Coach: Definitely you should speak with him. Share openly with him what’s true for you.

Though such advice may sound sensible, when the listener begins by advising, the client misses the opportunity for self-exploration and for generating his or her own personal realizations.

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