Ways to Respond in Conversation
Advice (fix it)
Advice is when you give guidance on how someone should proceed in a situation or how you may proceed if you were in the same situation. You offer solutions to a problem by going into fix it mode. This is the probably the most common type of response that individuals offer in Western society. There is a time and place for advice, but often it is not the best way to build connection. There are more effective ways to show someone that you care about what they are saying.
Challenge (new perspective) –
When we listen to others speak, we often consider different perspectives that the speaker has not considered. This is when we challenge them to consider an alternative view. Challenging someone or being challenged by someone is how we grow and change. However, it is also not the most effective tool to build connection. Sometimes people want to be listened to and heard, and not challenged.
Validation is when you demonstrate support for someone’s view or feeling. You say, “I understand what you are saying” or “It’s understandable that you feel that way.” It normalizes their experience and demonstrates that you are listening.
Empathy is the strongest tool for emotional connection. Empathy is about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and feeling the emotions they are feeling in that moment. Examples of empathic statements are “that sounds like it must have been very difficult for you” or “I don’t know what to say right now, but I am glad that you told me, and I am glad that we are talking about it.” Empathy is an advanced form of emotional connection and if you are not accustomed to using it, it will take some practice. A great prompt for empathizing is: “The part of your story that felt like it was happening to me was [Fill in a part of their story that was impactful to you, using their words, don’t talk about yourself].”
Ask the Speaker what they Need
Next time you have a conversation with someone, I encourage you to take a moment to slow down. Ask the speaker what type of response they need from you. Ask them if they are looking for advice, validation, empathy, or if they are looking for a new perspective (challenge). Many misunderstandings stem from the listener responding in way that the speaker was not looking for when they decided to share part of themselves with you. Ask them what they need and take a moment to reflect before you respond.