"I hear you" MUST come before "I challenge you"

Updated: Sep 9, 2019

For those old enough to remember "Friends" this article is about this conversation:

Monica: You and I went to different High Schools.

Rachel: See now you're confusing me because we went to the same High School.

...and the issue with "Double Empathy" discussed by Audrey will be aired on 24Live and The Chrissy B Show (Sky191)

Monica goes on to explain that she went to a High School where she was fat and bullied, while Rachel was Prom Queen - the experiences were different, and therefore the insecurities, fears, critical voice one hears is as unique.

This is the "double empathy problem". While we can try and understand what someone is experiencing, unless we have been through similar - or sometimes it has to be even more exact - it is almost impossible to completely appreciate their point of view. This is especially troublesome when we are trying to help. For example, if we cannot see that the decision to be homeless is for someone infinitely better than the alternatives, how can we tell them "Just get help and go back home"? or "Make the choice to live"...perhaps homelessness was that choice!

It is of course essential for professionals to be aware of "Double Empathy", but personal relationships will benefit as much from being mindful of it.

As a coach one thing I asked at the start of my training was "Is it possible for me to coach someone where I have no experience of their profession?" My trainer replied "Yes - and sometimes it's easier". Of course a modicom of understanding...or at least the abilty to ask about it helps, but having less to relate to in my own experience can mean less transferrence when I am with clients. Firstly I am less likely to talk about myself if something they say triggers a self-reflection (Note, when it does I am always mindful I only give examples to illustrate something for them rather than go off on one!); and secondly, it is much easier to immediately validate their point of view because I simply have no other beliefs otherwise!

The importance of validation to relationships

Validation is central to rapport in any relationship - ESPECIALLY if you are going to challenge a clinically distorted point of view.

This is a little exercise I give my classes - let's imagine this puppy can talk, and he tells you "I'm so ugly"..what is your immediate response?

Many of us would reassure him by a cuddle and a "Oh, no, you're so gorgeous/cute/lovely [insert positive word here]".

Let's further imagine the puppy is not fishing for compliments (although the response of validation helps with that too!)...he truly believes it. Now it's possible he thinks you don't believe him, he's wrong, and his thoughts (as well as his looks) aren't worth much.

As a friend, parent, and sometimes event a professional, we do not seek to hurt when we reassure - in fact it always comes from a place of love - we don't want you to think like that of yourself - especially when our eyes and hearts may tell us the complete opposite.

BUT - validate FIRST before you challenge (or offer your opinion!)

Listen to the thought, hear it, hold it, and then, if you wish to, offer your observation*.

*and I humbly suggest giving observation is more supportive than opinion!

Instead an easy "Oh I'm really sad you think that" first allows the speaker to feel heard. If you want to explore the thought then of course ask "What makes you say that"; or you might wish to offer your observation instead "I've always thought you were stunning"; or if you don't want to enter conversation (certainly as a friend or accquaintance you are not necessarily obliged to delve deeper), then leave it at the first response. (And if you suspect someone is fishing for compliments - validation is so much more powerful than taking the bait.)

The invisible ball

I use a drama game in my personal development sessions:

I throw an "Invisible ball" at delegates in a circle and I say what it is eg "It's a cat". The delegate who catches it either has to catch it as a "cat" or simply repeat "it's a cat" (I'm not testing role play skills!!) before they change it to their own idea. As a drama exercise it's about generating creativity and a sense of play where no idea is "wrong", but there is an even more powerful message underneath - you hear, acknowledge, and hold the other person's thought first before you change it to your own.

So often fear stops people expressing their ideas because they think they will be laughed at - this exercise can teach the importance of allowing everyone a voice; but also it explicitly teaches the value of listening, and implicitly allows every single person within the game to be heard.

"Backwoods Barbie"

I wanted to be pretty more than anything in the world

Like Barbie, or the models in the Frederick's catalogue

...in my dreams, I could have it all"

(Backwoods Barbie, Dolly Parton)

As a child (notably in my teens - when it mattered more to me) I was constantly told 'You're not pretty'...it was actually often followed by 'it's because you're Chinese'... so I decided to be smart - no one cares what you look like when you write...but the reality is, I care and have cared for over 40 years. This week I got my amazing headshot photographer to do a 'beauty shoot' with me, just to prove to myself (and have that image in my head) that I can look 'conventionally' glam if I'm willing to spend the time, money and effort.

Of course, I am very aware beauty is subjective and from within, and I am grateful to not be short of compliments - but, as I always say, you don't know until you know, and this was my way of facing a little inner voice - and silencing it!

I was delighted with the shoot - this is my most "striking" shot. And what also went through my head was "Ok, with 4 hours of hair and beauty, a studio and a professional photographer I can look as 'artifical' as the best of them."

So was it worth it? In some ways, yes - I'm done with that now, and I completely "know" beauty really IS from within, and next time I'd rather spend the time and money with the friends who have never cared what I look like...or the fact I'm also rather weird. But, it was a part of my journey - accepting what I can and can't do something about...and deciding if it really matters.

Different High Schools

Being active on social media I posted some of the proofs - along with my reasons, and I didn't expect there to be so much interest. I am grateful for every single comment (all extremely kind) - and reminder that inner beauty is most important...but aside from a few (of my close friends who know) many of us still went to different high schools. I went to one where I was made fun of daily for being Chinese, for being overweight, for having arm and face hair, for wearing glasses. When the opposite sex was interested in me it tended to be "Older" guys who always made a joke about "Ping pong tricks". This is not a post about "#MeToo" but it was a different time, and the people who were most emphatic about any unpopularity being my fault were much closer to home...and not malicious but insecure themselves.

I made things work, I dealt with it in my head, and in all honesty thanks to amazing friends, teachers and opportunities which were always supported by my parents it really wasn't a big deal...but that one thing "you're not pretty" stuck.

The more authentic I've learned to be, the stronger I am. As superficial as that battle may be - it was mine. And if something arguably trivial can cause me to go into a tailspin 2 years ago because I was told I had to start wearing my glasses again - how many other hidden fights are going on?

Dear Reader - what is it that you may have been told/think of yourself that could be preventing those new petals from blooming?

"Project Authenticity" Coaching Pilot

As such, I'm developing a coaching program to tackle your inner barrier, so that you can freely live the life you desire without fear or resentment - or holding yourself back/self-sabotage. I'm piloting it at the moment, but the plan is 4 x 1 hour coaching sessions (skype or in person in Northampton) on 'personal authenticity' including - if you want it - a tea and a simple shoot of you as your 'alter ego' (perhaps you are an inner dominatrix, or clown, or librarian!?) with 'photo ready' make up. If you would be interested, please let me know/message for more info. At the moment it would be £150 total cost for the 4 sessions plus the tea/photo).

(NOTE: to keep your initial costs down the photo shoot - which must be in Northampton - I'm offering is NON professional, otherwise Nick my photographer would charge £200 for the shoot alone...but if you wanted his details click the photo - he's more than worth it. )

I know coaching is a luxury, but the way I see it is I help you not only to blossom yourself, but to better help others and certainly the more influence or power you may have, the more it's important to not get derailed.

I hear you

I'll challenge you of course, that's my job, but I will always work to hear you and hold your thoughts. And I know that often those with the greatest accomplishments can still feel as if they aren't good enough...often leading them to chase the next (ultimately meaningless) success, feel envy at others whom they percieve as "better" and doubt everything they have built and earned. Imposter syndrome and confidence issues may result in inner critic name-calling ("I'm a control freak"; "I'm a bit stupid really") and sometimes defences "I'll just be inappropriate"; "It's ok I know how to make them laugh/entertain/wing it"...which can be very successful for you when used as a deliberate professional strategy but perhaps less helpful when they prevent you from experiencing the most fundamental needs of fulfilment and contentment - just being with those you love and who love you.

You don't sound stupid, it's never irrelevant, and while I will offer observations, it is always your choice how you reflect on them...you didn't get to be as successful as you are by chance so you're doing more than enough that works for you!

Hold that thought

This week, try this:

Before you give your opinion - even if it is complimentary or reassuring - acknowledge the other person's high school first. You may not see it, but accept that that they do, and they have every right to. (And if you can't - what are you really trying to prove by getting involved!?...we can work on that too!)

Audrey is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol), and the author of "The Leader's Guide to Mindfulness" (Pearson & FT series) and "Be A Great Manager - Now" (Pub Pearson, 2016, Book of the Month in WH Smith Travel Stores). She is a CPD Accredited speaker, trainer, and qualified FIRO-B and NLP Practitioner. She is the founding Development Coach and Training Consultant with her training consultancy CLICK Training, and the resident psychologist on The Chrissy B Show (Sky191), the UK's only TV programme dedicated to mental health and wellbeing. She often presents at National and International conferences in the fields of leadership and team cohesion, and is part of the Amity University conference panel. She currently lectures in Personal Development and Mindfulness and offers psychological consultancy in these areas to organisations. Website: www.draudreyt.com and www.resilienthealthonline.com Twitter: @draudreyt Insta: @draudreyt Email: audrey@clickproductions.co.uk

Headshot by Nick Freeman

©2019 by Resilient Health: Wellness before the point of crisis.