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  • Writer's pictureJanet Myatt

Transforming Relationships with Compassionate Empathy

Updated: Jan 27

Transforming relationships with compassionate empathy

This case study explores Janine's journey in the Mastering Communication class and how the skills she learned have transformed her relationship with her daughter. It highlights the challenges Janine faced in her conversations with her daughter and the toll it took on her. The study also introduces the concept of compassionate empathy and its role in effective communication. By understanding and applying compassionate empathy, Janine experienced immediate positive results in her relationship with her daughter. The study concludes by emphasizing the importance of active listening and providing emotional support rather than trying to fix or change the situation. Overall, this case study showcases the transformative power of effective communication skills in personal relationships.

Janine signed up for the Mastering Communication class last spring for several reasons. For a start, she wanted to empower herself with skills to help her better navigate work relationships within an environment with low psychological safety.  She also wanted to find a way to change a troubling dynamic in her relationship with her daughter.

Janine and her adult daughter Rhonda had a close, loving relationship.  Every day after work, they would speak on the phone to talk about their day.  But lately, Janine wanted to avoid answering her daughter’s calls because she often felt drained afterward.  Rhonda had a highly stressful job working as a social worker for disadvantaged and special needs kids.  Consequently, her conversations with her mother generally focused on Rhonda's problems and how overwhelmed and burnt-out she was feeling.  Janine found herself spending the entire call trying to provide wise counsel and encouragement. This left her feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, too, because she also had a stressful job. 

Through the group discussions in class, Janine shared that the skills she was learning were helping her feel more confident at work.  She was experiencing better results navigating difficult discussions while acknowledging that it would take time to create long-term change because she had multiple relationships to navigate. Where she found immediate and impactful positive results, however, was in her relationship with her daughter. 

This was due to what she learned about effectively responding to others when they are upset or distressed. Through learning about and witnessing video examples of the five common mistakes people make, Janine was quickly able to identify which pitfalls she was falling into as a listener and take corrective action.

5 Common Mistakes Listeners Make

  1. The Avoider:  The listener tries to avoid or distract the other person by changing the subject.

  2. The Fixer:  The listener feels they must counsel, advise, or fix the situation for the other person.

  3. The Minimizer:  The listener tries to minimize or gloss over the situation for the other person.

  4. The Hijacker:  The listener takes over the conversation with their own upsetting situation, similar or otherwise.

  5. The Table-turner:  The listener becomes so triggered by the other person’s distress that they now need to be comforted or reassured.

Janine recognized that she was a Fixer, Minimizer, and finally, an Avoider when the first two failed to work.  Once she learned that all she needed to do was respond with compassionate empathy, her relationship with her daughter immediately improved. 

Compassionate empathy is a unique ability that involves being fully present and attentive to another person, allowing them to feel acknowledged and cared for. The key to compassionate empathy is not to mirror, escalate, resolve, or take over the situation but rather to provide a supportive presence.

Compassionate Empathy

Compassionate empathy is primarily expressed through active listening. This involves paying close attention to the other person's feelings and responding in a way that communicates understanding and care. This approach differs significantly from attempting to control the situation or trying to solve the problem at hand. While it may be well-intentioned, trying to change how the person feels or drive them toward a solution is often counterproductive, as it leaves the other person feeling alone and unseen.  Instead, compassionate empathy is about validating their emotions and letting them know they are not alone.  It’s about providing emotional support and understanding rather than trying to fix or change things.

In conclusion, the communication class had a positive impact on Janine's life. She quickly transformed her relationship with her daughter by responding to her daughter's distress with compassionate empathy rather than advice. Furthermore, the class allowed her to learn effective skills that were helpful in navigating a work environment with low psychological safety. Having opportunities to practice the skills in a safe environment, discuss her particular challenges and successes, and receive insightful coaching helped her feel confident applying what she was learning in her daily life.  Together, these experiences helped her successfully achieve her communication goals and bring about meaningful improvements in her work and personal relationships.    

If you'd like to begin transforming your relationships with good communication skills, please join me in Mastering Communication: From Basics to Brilliance, starting February 21st.


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