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Posted 6 Jan 2023

The communication process is like two sides of a medallion. The way we express ourselves is one side of the communication process, while the way we perceive people is the other. So, how do we understand what the other person feels or requests?

The answer that many people will give to this question will be “empathy”. Empathy is a French-origin word that we frequently use in our daily lives, which is defined as “feel others feelings” by the Turkish Language Association. It is so ingrained in our language that most people do not know the Turkish version of the word.

In mediation and negotiation processes (especially in mediation processes with strong emotional ties, such as family mediation) people often complain that the other person does not empathize with them. In daily life, as in mediation, empathy is often “expected”. In other words, empathy is often an expected behavior from the other person, not a way of understanding people. However, non-violent communication is only possible if we empathize too.

There is an urge to be fast that city life imposes on people. Food has to be eaten quickly, work has to be done quickly, and the whole day has to be rushed to get to the next day, which will be the same as today. People should not exceed the time we have for them. In this desire for speed, we tend to quickly find out what the person needs rather than trying to understand what he/she feels. What we usually mean by empathizing is that we quickly perceive the problem and comfort or advise the other person. For example, when a person tells us about a problem, we tend to either offer consolations such as “It will pass in time, don’t worry so much, I’m sure you’ll get over it, you’re the strongest person I have ever met” or advice such as “I’m sure it would be good for you to do …, I think you should …”.

But the most important part of the empathy process is to give time to the person you are trying to understand. People often don’t need to hear advice or words of consolation, they just need to feel understood.  Making a person feel listened to until you are sure he/she has said everything he/she wants to say, strengthens communication with that person. To understand exactly what the other person means and to help him/her to express feelings, it is useful to ask open-ended questions such as “So how did this situation make you feel, what would you want to be done in such a situation?”. What we understand may not always be what the person we are speaking with wants to say. It would also be useful to reflect what we understand in our own words to confirm its accuracy. Thus, the points we misunderstand are clarified.

For a non-violent communication process, it is fundamental to be able to fully express our feelings and needs and to understand the other person’s feelings and needs, which are two sides of the medallion. For this, let’s make empathy not a behavior we “expect” but a behavior we practice.

Rosenberg, Marshall B., “Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life”, 2015 p. 110-146.

Arzum Beyza Çimen

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Alexandra Kieffer

Alexandra Kieffer

Alexandra Kieffer is a certified mediator with a background of peace and conflict studies and responsible for international networks and training and happy to answer all your questions.

Dr. Andrea Hartmann-Piraudeau

Dr. Andrea Hartmann-Piraudeau is an international certified mediator and conflict expert with a broad international network and many years of experience in mediation and ADR. She is responsible for curriculum and research.