Have you ever felt like you’ve cared so much you just can’t anymore? Like you’re exhausted from taking care of others? Even if you’ve never heard of compassion fatigue, you may be familiar with what it is. Maybe more familiar than you’d like.

What is compassion fatigue?

Psychologist Charles Figley says it’s “a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.”

In essence, it’s feeling like you have no more empathy to give.

Compassion fatigue is most often associated with health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, therapists and at-home caregivers. But we’re all at risk of feeling this way.

Let’s face it: Life can be downright draining. 

You may be worn out from caring for sick or aging loved ones. Perhaps you’re tired of giving grace to your spouse. Maybe you don’t feel like you have anything left to give your kids. You may even be totally overwhelmed by the non-stop flow of information about the suffering around the world. All these things (and more) can contribute to a feeling of emotional exhaustion.

Compassion fatigue is rooted in caring for others.

It would be easy to confuse compassion fatigue with burnout, but they’re a bit different. According to the American Institute of Stress, burnout is marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with cumulative stress at work. [Read https://firstthings.org/7-ways-to-prevent-burnout/.]

Compassion fatigue occurs because of the emotional strain of supporting those who are suffering from something traumatic. It is rooted in caring for others. It’s not just a workplace thing, but it can co-exist with burnout, especially for those in service professions.

Look for these symptoms.

Some symptoms of compassion fatigue are:

  • Physical and psychological exhaustion
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, or powerless
  • A decreased sense of personal and professional accomplishment
  • A change in your worldview or spirituality
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • A dramatic withdrawal from social connections

Since compassion fatigue affects your mental and physical health, it also impacts the quality of your relationships with your partner, children, friends, and co-workers.

Remember, caring for yourself properly can help you care effectively for others. So, if (or when) you find that you’ve run out of empathy to give, understanding how to combat compassion fatigue can help you move forward. 

Fighting Compassion Fatigue

Psychiatrist Yazhini Srivathsal, M.D., offers a few ways to combat compassion fatigue:

  • Follow general self-care guidelines – get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and nurture social relationships.
  • Practice gratitude and being engaged in the present moment.
  • Avoid information overload. If too much negative information stresses you out, take steps to decrease how much you consume.
  • Engage in activities that rejuvenate you.
  • Understand that pain and suffering are normal, and you have no control over them.
  • Focus on what you can control, like your thoughts and feelings. You may not be able to control what happens around you or to you, but you can control how you react.
  • If needed, seek professional help.

Helping others is an important component of healthy relationships. Your partner, your children, and your loved ones depend on you, and that can be overwhelming. When you feel compassion fatigue begins to set in, take the proper steps to care for yourself. If you see these signs in your loved ones, stepping in and offering to walk alongside them can alleviate some of their load.

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Everything Feels Hopeless – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated as a Parent – First Things First

How to Stay Motivated During Marriage Challenges – First Things First

5 Benefits of Being Thankful – First Things First

Sources:

Compassion Fatigue – The American Institute of Stress

Are You Suffering from Compassion Fatigue? | Psychology Today

Compassion Fatigue: Symptoms To Look For

Are you experiencing compassion fatigue?

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner

5 Ways to Start the New Year Off Right

Reflection and intention can help you reach your goals.

One more year is almost in the rearview, and the countdown to the new year is on. Can you believe it? If you’re like me, you may already be thinking about new opportunities and goals to help you start the new year right.

If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of “New Year’s Resolutions,” let me just state the obvious: There’s nothing significant about January 1 when it comes to goals. There is nothing magical about new year’s resolutions. In fact, research has found that only about 45% of people even make resolutions. (And 35% of those who do quit them before the end of January.)

So, are they even worth it? While resolutions may not be the most successful, there is a lot of benefit in setting goals for yourself. Goals can help you become who you want to be, provide stability and drive you. January 1 gives you a good starting point. The calendar flips to another year, and it’s often seen as a fresh start. 

But, how do we start the new year off right?

1. Reflect on the previous year. 

Healthy things grow. Healthy people are no different, but to grow, we have to see where we are. Start by looking back at the previous year and ask yourself:

What went well last year?

What did I accomplish?

How did my life improve?

What goals did I abandon? Why?

What hurdles did I overcome?

What do I wish I had spent more time doing?

2. Ask yourself, “What do I want to improve upon and why?”

You have the best opportunity to achieve the goals you set for yourself. Be careful not to set your goals based on what another person or our culture says. Your goals are about your health, finances, career, relationships, or whatever you choose. No matter how good a goal is, the success rate is diminished if it’s set for the wrong reasons. Side note: There is no magical number of goals either. Maybe you just need to start with one and focus on it until you achieve it.

3. Set SMART goals.

Ever heard of a SMART goal? SMART is an acronym coined in the Management Review Journal in 1981. It means specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s a business model for setting goals, but it translates well to other types. Here’s a brief explanation of a SMART goal:

  • Specific: Your resolution should be absolutely clear. Instead of “I want to get in better shape,” say, “I want to run a 5k in 3 months.”
  • Measurable: You need a way to measure your progress. Depending on your goal, you may have to search, but look for a tool to measure your progress. Choose a method that you’ll stick with.
  • Achievable: If it’s not attainable, you’ll probably give up too soon. Don’t try to jump too big, too fast. If there’s a big, lofty goal you want to achieve in the future, that’s great. Break it down into smaller goals and take those on. It’s a lot less daunting to say you want to lose 5 pounds in 2 months than to say you want to lose 50 pounds.
  • Relevant: Does the goal matter to you? Is this something you want, not anyone else?
  • Time-bound: Every goal needs a timeframe. The timeline must be realistic. Set a target achievement date and set benchmarks along the way. 

4. Build a support system.

Achieving goals is a lot easier when you surround yourself with people cheering you on. Come alongside friends or family, and all agree to share your goals and support each other. Accountability will push you to keep at it. If you need to, find an online group with similar goals and journey together.

5. Write it down.

This seems simple, but there’s power in writing your goals, perhaps in your planner or on a sticky note in a prominent place. Make sure they are somewhere highly visible so you can read them over and over. And you can check off that goal once you achieve it. 

Go ahead and set those goals for the new year. But take the time to make a plan. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 

Other resources:

Gratitude Challenge

How Failed New Year’s Resolutions Can Affect Marriages – First Things First

Relationship Resolutions – First Things First

10 Resolutions for a Healthy Marriage – First Things First

How to Stop a Conversation Without Hurting the Relationship

Thinking about a way out ahead of time can help you be prepared to make an exit.

Picture this: You’re having an EXHAUSTING conversation with extended family. There seems to be no easy or natural escape route, but you’ve got to get away for your own sanity. You know that stopping the conversation can hurt the relationship. What do you do?

You may want to stop the conversation for several reasons:

  • The topic is too controversial, and it’s not worth potentially fracturing the relationship. (Religion, politics, social justice, morality, parenting, etc.)
  • It’s gotten too personal. (Unresolved issues, things you don’t want to share, topics you disagree on regarding how you live your life, and so on.)
  • It’s simply time to move on. You have other commitments or people to talk to.
  • The conversation feels like gossip. 
  • Your history with this person leads you to believe that this convo won’t end well.
  • You don’t feel equipped to talk about the topic.

I’m sure you can come up with all kinds of reasons you’d want or need to stop a conversation.

If you’re like me, you work hard to avoid hurting others – and sometimes end up talking too long and wasting time. This can lead to resentment or simply lost interest in the relationship because you hope you don’t run into that person. Why? Because you know the conversation will go ON and ON and ON if you do. 

But maybe you’re like some friends of mine who can be overly blunt. They don’t care if they hurt your feelings. So they may say:

I ain’t got time for all this. I’ll talk to you later.”

“I’m not about to have this conversation with you.”

“I knew better than to try and talk to you about this.”

Let’s say that you want to bow out gracefully, but you’re not sure how. All you know is that you want to stop the conversation without hurting the relationship or someone’s feelings. 

But first, here’s an important thing for you to consider: “Why would stopping the conversation hurt the relationship?” 

Knowing the “correct” answer to this question may not be as important as considering the possibilities.

Would the person feel rejected? Dismissed?

Is it about the loss of control?

Considering how and why stopping the conversation could hurt the relationship can help you end conversations with empathy. It can also show that you care about the person and the relationship. 

Remember, every situation and every relationship is different. The culture of the relationship often dictates what’s most effective. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Preparing to Stop the Conversation

  • Allow others to speak their mind and get their thoughts out. Resist the need to interrupt others to express your rebuttal or opinion. 
  • Own your need to exit the conversation.
  • Be confident in your conversational boundaries (and why you have them).
  • Value the relationship over the conversation.

If you want out of the conversation, you can start with:

“What you said leaves a lot to think about. I truly value this relationship, and I don’t want you to think I’m trying to just dismiss you or your thoughts, however…” 

These words express that you heard them and that you value the relationship. It also shows empathy.:.

The reason for ending the conversation may determine what you say next.

Are you ending the conversation because…

  • You have something else you need to do?
  • It’s too emotional?
  • Controversial topic?
  • You don’t feel heard?
  • __________ ? Fill in the blank

If so, you may finish the statement with:

“…I have a prior commitment, and I don’t want to be disrespectful to the people there.”

“…this conversation is more than I’m ready for right now. Will you respect my wishes to talk about something else?”

“… this type of conversation rarely ends well. Can we talk about something else?” (It helps to have another topic in your back pocket.)

“…can we talk about this when I’m in a better position to talk?”

The truth is, even though you might do everything in your power to be honest, empathetic, and kind, the other person can still feel hurt. But you can’t control how someone responds when you do what you believe is best for you and the relationship. All you can do is rest in knowing that you did your part. Hopefully, others can give you the space you need for your own well-being and let the conversation end on a good note.

Other blogs:

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

4 Ways to Have Difficult Conversations During the Holidays

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics – First Things First

The Good Conversationalist: The Basics (by Emily Post Etiquette)

How To Avoid Stress This Holiday Season

These things can help you navigate the season with more peace.

Holidays are wonderful times of the year, but it’s easy to get caught up in trying to make each one the “best” holiday ever. A lot of holiday stress comes from that expectation. Although we all want to avoid holiday stress, it usually shows up in different ways. It may look like wanting to purchase the perfect gifts, decorating your home immaculately, or preparing the food that everyone loves. Let’s face it, stress happens! But there are some ways you can try to avoid it.

Here are some tips for avoiding stress and bringing “happy” back to the holidays.

Create and utilize healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are limits or rules that we set for ourselves or others, and keeping those can help minimize holiday stress. You don’t have to attend every party you are invited to. Respecting the boundary of your time allows you to decide what activities you want to participate in during the holidays. When you embrace your money boundary, you choose what gifts to purchase and how much to spend. Healthy holiday boundaries can save time and strengthen relationships.

Create a schedule that works for you.

Schedules can often go by the wayside during the holiday season. We become overwhelmed with things to do. When thinking about your holiday calendar, remember to keep your daily routines on it. Making time to exercise, get enough rest, and give yourself time for a break when you need it is essential.

Examine your priorities.

Many people try to do it all for the holidays. However, it’s hard to do it all and keep your wits about you. Take time to examine what matters most to you by asking yourself some questions:

What’s the most essential part of the holiday to me?

What memories do I want to make this year?

What am I unwilling to do?

Once you’re aware of your priorities, you get to choose and adapt. For example, let’s say your focus is spending time with your family. You all have a tradition of going to hear your local symphony orchestra play, but you don’t have to do that because you always have. Maybe this year, your family has a holiday bake-off instead. The main thing is that your family spends time together, not how.

Presence, not perfection.

Media has created so much pressure around the holidays. And sometimes we do it to ourselves.

Perfect tree, perfectly decorated. 

Perfect gifts for family and friends. 

You have to host the perfect holiday party with the ideal menu. 

Do you feel the stress yet? 

If your priority is spending time with your family, it’s presence, not perfection, that matters. I’m not saying you shouldn’t put up a tree, host a party or get gifts if you want to. I am saying that prioritizing your family means creating memories and moments by being there. You can choose to slow down and be present in the moment. Don’t miss your moments.

Choose to see the positive. 

Your perspective on the holidays can determine how much holiday stress impacts you. You already know that holiday stress will occur, but you get to choose whether you see the holidays as a half-full or half-empty glass. Your perspective allows you to be willing and open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Whether your holidays are a great time with family or you’re glad it’s over because you don’t have to see some of “those people” until next year depends on your perspective. 

The holidays can be times of fun, family, food, and sharing life together. They can also be filled with overwhelming expectations. Deciding how you spend your holidays NOW can help you navigate the season with less stress. I hope you’ll be able to look back and feel good about the time with your family – which is what the holidays are really about.

Other blogs:

How to Connect at Family Mealtimes

DIY Date Night: Tree Traditions

5 Ways to Build Teamwork in Your Family

6 Ways to Keep a Conversation From Getting Derailed

Deepen your relationships by how you handle conversations.

Holidays are supposed to be a time of love and joy when you gather and celebrate family, friends, and traditions. Those celebrations can easily be derailed when you find yourself in an uncomfortable or controversial conversation. 

There’s no shortage of hot topics to navigate around if you want to have a peaceful gathering with friends and family. But try as you may, you just might find yourself discussing a divisive issue. You know you and a loved one aren’t on the same page about this topic, and you’re ok with that, but you probably don’t want a conversation to hurt the relationship. So, how do you stop the conversation before it goes too far?

Kathleen Kelley Reardon, a professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, notes that “conversations are building blocks of relationships.” They have the power to build up or tear down relationships. 

Here are six of Reardon’s strategies to help you get a negative conversation back on track (just in time for the holidays):

1. Shine a different light on what’s being said.

If the other person says, “I don’t want to fight about this,” you can reply with, “I don’t want to fight either. Let’s have a discussion.” A discussion is seen as more civil. A conversation that evolves into an argument causes both people to put their guard up. A discussion, on the other hand, invites more listening. 

2. Rephrase what’s being said.

Instead of calling someone stubborn, call them persistent or determined. If they say, “You’ve got a lot to say,” you might respond, “I’m passionate about this subject and want to make sure every side is heard.” If offensive words are used, rephrase them positively.

3. Reflect on a positive past experience. 

Relationships are full of positive and negative interactions. A present negative doesn’t have to tear down a mostly positive past. If you need to pump the brakes, you might say, “We’ve had such a good relationship, but something has us out of sync. I know we can work this out in a positive way.”

This shows the other person that you value and want to protect what you have with them.

4. Clarify what you heard by restating what the other person said.

We’re all guilty of speaking faster than our brain can work. I know I’ve said plenty of hurtful things that I wish I could take back. If you think they have mistakenly said something painful, ask them, “Did you mean what I think I heard?” Give them the benefit of reconsidering and rephrasing what they said.

5. Ask a question.

Maybe your friend or family member didn’t mean to intentionally hurt or insult you. Perhaps they chose words too quickly. Ask, “Would you clarify what you just said?” Try not to assume they are determined to cause you harm. Give the relationship the benefit of the doubt.

6. Revisit the conversation at a later time.

There’s nothing wrong with bluntly saying, “I don’t think either of us is at our best right now. Can we pause this conversation and revisit it another day? I don’t want this to hurt our relationship.” Your consideration for the person is more valuable than who wins the discussion. Choose to protect the relationship.

Remember, conversations are building blocks to help us get to know each other better. They are how we deepen and develop relationships. Do what you can to keep one heated exchange from destroying a lifelong relationship. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be correct, but do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? You can’t always have both.

Other blogs:

What To Do When Your Family Disagrees About Politics

What to Do When You Disagree With the Ones You Love

How to Have a Disagreement with a Friend without Ending Your Friendship

Sources:

www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com

7 Things to Say When a Conversation Turns Negative

5 Benefits of Being Thankful

Gratitude can be a great thing.

Have you ever wondered how to make life better? How can you be happier, healthier, or more fulfilled? Having an attitude of gratitude could be one answer. You may have heard this little catchphrase before. It’s possible you just rolled your eyes, too.

But does being thankful work?

What is gratitude anyway? 

Gratitude is the state of being thankful. It’s showing appreciation for what you have or receive. 

Dr. Robert Emmons, the gratitude guru, takes the definition further. He describes it using two key components:

  1. Gratitude is “an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts, and benefits we’ve received.”
  2. Gratitude is our recognition “that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.”

So, how can being thankful benefit your life? I’m so glad you asked. 

Here are 5 benefits of gratitude:

1. Gratitude can help relieve stress.

We all deal with stress daily. Research has found that being grateful might keep our minds from getting so worked up worrying about things. When you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, refocusing on what you’re grateful for can calm the body and mind. This reduces the symptoms of stress.

When you choose gratitude over negativity, you also feel less emotionally charged. A sense of gratitude allows you to respond rather than react in the moment.

2. Gratitude can make you more positive.

According to psychologist Dr. Catherine Jackson, gratitude causes the brain to increase the production of dopamine and serotonin. 

Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. It’s associated with pleasure and reward. It contributes to focus, motivation, and happiness. 

Serotonin is a chemical that is considered a natural mood stabilizer. It helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, heal wounds, and maintain bone health.

So, a grateful mind allows you to feel more positive emotions.


THE GRATITUDE CHALLENGE

EASY ACTIVITIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY TO CULTIVATE A MINDSET OF THANKFULNESS

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF THIS SEASON?

It’s easy to find yourself smack dab in the middle of the holiday season feeling frantic and totally unprepared for the flurry of meals, school programs, family get-togethers, and gift exchanges. It’s really hard to feel grateful when you’re STRESSED to the max. (Shocker, right?)

And you better believe your kids are picking up what you’re putting down. So if you want them to have a little gratitude for all that they have, a good place to start is intentionally expressing gratitude yourself.

This guide will help you and your whole family do just that. Download these free activities for all ages and start cultivating some gratitude magic!


3. Gratitude strengthens your relationships.

Relationships, whether romantic, family, or friends, can be full of disappointments. As we grow closer to others, we see their flaws. It can be easy to dwell on these. But an attitude of gratitude allows us to focus more on the good qualities. The more we focus on the good, the more positive attributes we’ll find. 

A series of 2012 studies found that gratitude also increases empathy and reduces aggression. Gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others. Aggression, however, is just the opposite and is reduced among grateful people.

4. Gratitude can make you healthier.

The more grateful you are, the healthier you feel. Research supports that, too. Those who practice gratitude tend to have better psychological health. Grateful people also involve themselves in healthy activities and are more willing to seek help for health concerns. Additionally, grateful people are more likely to take care of themselves.

5. Gratitude reduces your risk of depression.

Regularly expressing gratitude can lead to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being grateful reminds us that not everything is bad. There are positives that we can focus on. Gratitude can make you feel more motivated, which pushes you toward your goals and dreams. A sense of hope helps to protect against depression.

Approaching life with thankfulness can have positive effects across all aspects of life. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your relationships. Choosing to be thankful and expressing gratitude for what you have can be a wonderful thing. And in case you didn’t know, gratitude is contagious. Your attitude of gratitude can create a ripple effect throughout your friends and family.

Other resources:

5 Keys to Being Thankful in Marriage

DOWNLOAD: 30 Days of Gratitude and Love

Sources:

Why Gratitude Is Good | Greater Good

A Grateful Heart is a Nonviolent Heart: Cross-Sectional, Experience Sampling, Longitudinal, and Experimental Evidence – C. Nathan DeWall, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Richard S. Pond, Todd B. Kashdan, Frank D. Fincham, 2012

Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood

The impact of gratitude on depression and anxiety: the mediating role of criticizing, attacking, and reassuring the self

Can Empathy Be Learned?

Being empathetic may come naturally for some, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost.

If you clicked on this blog, you’re either: 

A.) Wondering if that person you have a hard time with has a chance of growing into an empathetic individual or if they’re stuck as they are forever, or 

B.) Trying to figure this out for yourself. 

For the sake of clarity, I’m going to talk to you. But you can also apply this information to that sister, or friend, or mother-in-law that you feel doesn’t feel (or however you want to define your perception of them). 

For the sake of your time: YES. Empathy can be learned. (Phew!)

Research suggests that genetics determine about 50 percent of how empathetic a person is. The other 50-ish percent can be learned. 

Here’s how Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy: 

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” 

Basically, an empathetic person can understand and share another’s feelings. But it doesn’t come naturally for everyone, right?

Here are some things you can do if you need to learn empathy because it doesn’t come naturally:

1. Understand that you are biased. Everyone is. 

Every moment you’ve experienced has formed itself into the larger story of you, your life, who you are, and why. Think about the moments that have influenced you. Whatever comes to mind has shaped who you are right now. Your moments have been just as impactful as those that have shaped your sister, husband, father-in-law, or co-worker. Their moments have molded them differently. Their moments impact every decision they make, just as your moments have for you. This leads to my next point…

2. Ask questions.

The next time you speak with someone, let your primary goal be to learn more about them. Jodi Halpern, psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, says that the core of empathy is curiosity. As you ask and learn about the experiences that have shaped the person you’re engaging with, you may empathize with them more. It will also help you understand that who they are is a result of what they’ve experienced.  

3. Read stories.

Dr. Helen Riess (author of The Empathy Effect) says this about reading: “You enter the thoughts, heart and mind of another person who’s not like you, and it really does break down barriers.” What an amazing excuse to curl up with a good story – yes, fiction applies to this.” 

4. Join in.

The thing about empathy is that it’s not passive. In A Way of Being, clinical psychologist professor Carl Rogers put it this way: “Empathy involves being sensitive, moment to moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever, that [they] are experiencing. It means temporarily living in [their] life…” 

What Rogers describes is what it looks like to engage in another person’s life and experience. A great way to engage with people is to volunteer in your community. It’s one thing to witness brokenness (i.e., the homeless man who frequents the same bench on your commute to work). It’s entirely another thing to serve within the brokenness (i.e., feeding the man). The former is passive, and the latter is active. 

You’re normal if empathy is not something that comes naturally to you. 

You are not a hopeless case (and I hope no one has ever made you feel like you are because that’s just not true). 

Take a breather. You can learn. I urge you to remember that everyone has things that don’t come naturally to them. Yours just happens to be empathy. You have everything you need to care deeply for others, but you don’t have to do this alone. Let someone you trust know about your plan for working on empathy so they can come alongside you in your journey and offer assistance/accountability when needed. You can do this!

Sources:

Counseling and Therapy Skills by David Martin

Can Empathy Be Taught?

How to Be More Empathetic

Other blogs:

How To Build Empathy In Marriage

How to Teach Your Child to Be Empathetic

What To Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

3 Ways Empathy Can Strengthen Your Marriage

The Art of Communication

Try these steps to prevent miscommunication in your relationships!

Have you ever gotten frustrated with your spouse because they didn’t listen to you? Misunderstood someone? Been misunderstood? I have. We’ve all miscommunicated and misunderstood. As the poet said, “To err is human.” 

At the heart of most relationship issues lies miscommunication. Whether it is parent to child, husband to wife, spouse to an in-law, or friend to friend, missteps in communication have the potential to devastate a relationship. Big time.

Communication is an art. But, how do we improve it? How do we lessen the misunderstandings in our relationships?

In his book, Happily Ever After, Gary Chapman suggests that we can master the art of communication with these three tools:

The Art of Listening

If you haven’t already figured it out, you can’t read minds. And no one can read yours. That’s really a good thing. (Flashback to Mel Gibson becoming overwhelmed when he can hear the thoughts of every woman around him in What Women Want.

We can observe behavior, though. That starts with listening.

Dr. Chapman breaks down listening into five steps:

1. Ask questions.

Asking questions that show you’re sincerely interested in someone’s answers is far more effective than simply assuming you know why they do what they do.

2. Don’t interrupt.

We’re all tempted to jump in and finish someone else’s thoughts, but doing that is harmful to the conversation. Chapman writes, “The purpose of listening is to understand, not make a point.”

3. Clarify meaning.

We often listen from our perspective. Take the time to ask additional questions and understand exactly what they’re saying. Repeat it back to them if necessary. You can always say, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.” Then tell them what you heard. 

4. Express appreciation.

Thank them for sharing. You don’t have to affirm what they said if you disagree. “You are affirming their humanity, the right to think and feel differently from other people,” Chapman explains. 

Now, this is important: You must complete these four steps to earn the right to move on to number five.

5. Share your perspective.

“Because you listened, you are far more likely to be listened to,” Chapman stresses. You haven’t interrupted, you’ve clarified what they said, and you affirmed that they have value. Now you may share your viewpoint.

The Art of Speaking for Yourself

A crucial practice when communicating is to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. 

“When we begin a sentence with you, we are speaking as though we have ultimate knowledge of a person. In reality, we have only a perception,” Chapman shares. 

“You” statements can come across as accusatory and may lead to arguments. They are based on assumptions. Assuming is dangerous when it comes to relationships.

Beginning a thought with “I” shows you are revealing your feelings and your thoughts. You’re indicating a problem without condemning the other person. 

Instead of saying something like “You never listen to me,” try saying, “I don’t always feel heard.”

The Art of Negotiating

If you’ve been in any type of relationship, you know compromise is king. We all think differently and have different experiences.

When you learn how to effectively negotiate, you can build bridges with others. 

“Making a proposal is the first step in the process of negotiating. The second step is listening carefully to counterproposals,” Chapman notes. “Remember, negotiating has to do with two people trying to understand each other and reach an agreement that both of them will feel good about.”

“A proposal opens the opportunity for dialogue,” he continues. “The process of listening, understanding, and seeking to find an agreement is the process of negotiation.” When negotiating, it’s essential to get into the habit of making requests, not demands. 

Your relationships are worth the effort to master the art of communication. We’ll all make mistakes and miscommunicate from time to time, for sure. But you have value, and the people you are in a relationship with also have value. Take the time to communicate effectively and show lots of grace. Remember, to err is human.

Sources

Happily Ever After by Dr. Gary Chapman

The Importance of Communication in a Relationship 

What Great Listeners Actually Do