When Empathy Isn’t Received

Let’s dive a little deeper into Empathy, as Wise Heart explores the skill and art of ‘interrupting to connect’ when the other person is struggling to receive your empathy.

Empathy is relationship competency number two in the Mindful Compassionate Dialogue framework. For more context on MCD Relationship Competency 2: Empathy, see Distinguishing Between Empathy and Other Responses to Difficulty.

Have you ever tried to offer someone empathy only to see it bounce off of them? Sometimes it’s as though your guess hits a force field. The other person responds to your empathy guess by telling their story again, analysing, or by criticising.

You’d like to connect to their heart and share in their experience, not just in their thoughts and opinions.  At this point, you might go along politely and avoid talking to that person in the future.  Or, if it is a more central relationship, you might move into your own thoughts and judgments and hear yourself say, silently or aloud, something like:  “You just complain about the same thing over and over!”

Interrupting to create connection gives you an option to move towards a fulfilling connection.

You have probably had training that interrupting is “rude” (that it doesn’t meet needs for consideration). And this might be true if you interrupt to interject your own opinion, problem-solve, give advice, tell your own related story, etc.

Interrupting to connect with the other more fully, is about bringing more attention and attunement to the other person which is likely what they want, but don’t know how to ask for or, perhaps, receive.  Interrupting to connect involves a few critical skills or steps that distinguishes it from other forms of interrupting.

1.  Immediately state your intention to connect with them:

“Hang on, I’m really wanting to get what you’re saying and I’m not sure if I am. Are you feeling irritated because you need mutuality in the relationship?”

2.  Don’t give up, if they ignore your guess, try again.

“Wait a sec, let me see if I’m getting it. Are you feeling exasperated because you need consideration?”

3.  Reflect back the thoughts before moving to feelings and needs.

“Yeah, you’re thinking they were wrong for doing that?”

4.  Say what you notice is happening with your guesses.

“Hey, Chris, I am noticing I am making guesses about what you were experiencing and I don’t know if they are landing. Could you tell me if I am in the ballpark with my guesses just now?”

5.  If they don’t connect with feelings, try just guessing needs.

“Are you needing respect?”

6.  Express your own feelings and needs.

“I notice I am feeling a little frustrated because I want to connect and I am not sure how. Could you tell me what you are wanting me to get from what you are saying?”

7.  The most important thing to remember is that you are interrupting to connect and this takes courage.

Interrupting might mean some awkwardness, or conflict at first.

In your family of origin, you may have had training to attempt to maintain harmony at all costs.  This gets in the way of genuine connection that’s possible if you are willing to risk some initial conflict or discomfort.

The more you experience the joy of heart connection and the more tools you have, the less willing you will likely be to sacrifice a moment of this precious life for maintaining superficial harmony, being politely disconnected, or acting from obligation.

Interrupting to connect means you are valuing aliveness and genuine connection for you and the other person.  It takes courage, practice, and skill to move from accepting disconnect to living from an awakened heart.


Take a moment now to recall the last time you just listened politely waiting for the conversation to be over.  What might have interrupting to connect sounded like in that situation?

I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog.

Thank you for reading, for being here, and for being you.

With love.

If you would like to learn and cultivate the relational competencies, communication skills and emotional capacity needed to create compassionate, skilful and thriving relationships with yourself and others, have a look at our upcoming Mindful Compassionate Dialogue course. Click HERE.

You are also invited to join our free biweekly Empathy Circle, where you can learn and discover what empathy is, and more importantly, practice giving and receiving empathy, allowing you to be deeply seen and heard in whatever challenge or celebration you’re navigating. Click HERE.

If you’d like to experience a powerful coaching conversation, book a complimentary 1:1 Coaching Call with me. Click HERE.

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