5 ways to be empathetic to an emotionally charged conversation. 

I had a dear friend of my named Hank (not real name) not too long ago approach me in a somewhat defeated demeanor. I asked him what was going on and he responded that he was not understanding the Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick situation. I asked him why the defeated look though and he mentioned how he had a conversation with a friend turn for the worse and that wasn’t his intention.

You see Hank is in his late twenties and is a vanilla male from a middle class suburb. And his acknowledgment about not understanding the situation is both accurate and acceptable.

The conversation with Hank has been on my mind in the midst of all that is currently going on. I began to realize that there are many Hanks out there. People who are unsure about what’s going on and what should they do. They genuinely want to understand what’s going on but from their vantage point are struggling with understanding the plight or trouble that are being expressed by others, especially on social media.

So, I thought I’d provide 5 tips for the Hanks out there who want to be empathetic to the current situation.

1. Listen

Too often a point or counterargument is attempted to be made before listening to someone describe their experience or experiences. Listening doesn’t equal agreement. Listen until you can’t listen anymore and then listen some more!

2. Wait

Too often many from the majority are speaking from a “telling it how it is” tone without being asked or invited to share  by a person sharing from their minority experience. Wait twice as long as you listen before commenting. And never  attempt to argue with someone’s shared experience.

3. Feel

The moment you’re having a conversation and feel the desire to prove your point (no matter how valid you believe) you’re no longer in a position to be empathetic.

4. Stop

You should try to avoid commenting, sharing, responding to any event that has happened in the last 48 hours. The first 48 hours are usually a highly reactive and emotional time. And there are very few fruitful conversations that can happen under those conditions. You can however, ask questions about someone’s experience, ask what it’s been like for them, have they seen hurtful comments, is there anything you can do, etc. You’d be surprised by the things hidden to you that others have or are currently experiencing, especially from those around them.

5. Go

Give someone’s experience the benefit of the doubt. We can too often be very dismissive of what a person’s sharing and in turn minimize the feelings of the person we’re trying to understand. Take a step back: wait, listen, feel, and stop. And when the moment is right or an opportunity is presented, go share the experience of another (empathy). You may be surprised to what happens.

There’s a community in America who want nothing more than to feel that other Americans empathize and will listen to their experience. Most of them would not want you Hank to fully experience what they have gone or going through. They just don’t want you to tell them that it doesn’t exist!

Hopefully, for the Hanks out there this provides you a starting point. Please leave any questions or comments that you may have.

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