“Empathy principles? The most important thing is to make a pause”

Tatyana Karyagina on the ability to listen to and hear other people

“Empathy principles? The most important thing is to make a pause”
Photo: kanal-o.ru

“It is very important to have the mindset to understand the other person. Sometimes, parents say: 'I listen to him actively, but he still gets his own way.' Our understanding is not for that the other did what we want, but for the person to feel understood," says psychologist Tatyana Karyagina. About how to listen to each other in family life, why the prototype of psychotherapy is not a confession from a priest, and whether it is possible to feel the interlocutor through communication in social networks — she told in the second part of the interview to Realnoe Vremya. Read the first part here.

“Sometimes, they say: “I listen to him actively, but he still gets his own way.” Our understanding is not for that the other did what we want”

In family life, quarrels often arise because a spouse “does not hear and does not understand” the other. How can we learn to listen and hear your soulmate?

It's super-question. Psychologists usually say: one should talk to his or her significant other, shouldn't ignore problems. How should we talk? I would point out the importance of giving space and time to your partner and yourself to be heard, not trying to solve problems on the run.

The most difficult thing is that family relationships are loaded with mutual feelings, and when my partner talks about his anger at his boss, then, for example, resentment and anger at him can actualise in me because I know him well and see analogies in his situation at work and our communication with him, etc. And, of course, it is difficult to get out of this vicious circle — everyone needs to be heard. Therefore, in really difficult conflict situations, I highly recommend family psychotherapy, in which the therapist, as a third party not included in the dyad, will help to establish a dialogue.

How to be empathetic when your own “glass” is full is very well described in the book by Julia Gippenreiter Communicate With The Child. How? Empathy principles: attunement to the other, the desire to really understand him or her, rejection of assessments, advice, the recognition that the feelings of another person are what they are and not the desire to refute them, to challenge: “In reality, you are just...”, plus the ability to tell about own feelings so that they could be heard, that is, without immediately blaming the other for them — that's the main strategy. But, of course, all this is easy to say and very difficult to implement in practice.

But how to realize the ability to listen? How to move from theory to practice?

In addition to what I have already said, I would stress that the most important thing is to make a pause. We even have such an exercise for students in educational consultations when it is prescribed to make a pause for a few minutes both to the client and the psychologist.

This does not mean that I urge everyone to be silent in turn. Rather, a pause for the listener is an image of the state of temporary abandonment of expressing oneself, one's judgments, and one's focus on another. Because this is our willingness to react immediately to the words of another is very strong. It seems to us that we know what and why is happening to another person, or our fear for the other, or our own resentment, or anger at the other — all this forces us to respond and act immediately. It often happens that when we really listen, we realize that what seemed perfectly clear to us is just a superficial truth, a stereotypical vision, our habit.

To make a pause is to slow down the usual reactions and try to look at the world through the eyes of another person instead, to immerse yourself for a while in his or her experience, to feel his or her situation and convey what you have understood, perhaps, as some kind of hypothesis (“Do I understand you correctly?"), inviting the other to clarify as needed and continue the conversation. I have witnessed many situations when such an unusual way of speaking at first led to significant progress in conflict resolution, mitigation of contradictions and real discoveries. But it is very important to have the mindset to understand the other person. Sometimes, parents say: “I listen to him actively, but he still gets his own way.” Our understanding is not for that the other did what we want, but for the person to feel understood, to know that he, his feelings are important to us, that he is not alone in his experience.

Photo: joinfo.ua
Making a pause means to slow down the usual reactions and try to look at the world through the eyes of another person instead, to immerse yourself for a while in his or her experience, to feel his or her situation and convey what you have understood, perhaps, as some kind of hypothesis

All sorts of personal growth coaches also tell a lot about empathic listening. How important is it for managers to master it?

Here the situation is different because the relationship between superior and subordinate are not equal by default. Of course, even with all the empathy for the employee, the boss is forced to demote or fire him. How exactly he would do it is another question. But I would say, in terms of empathy, that the superior is most responsible for the atmosphere in the team. It is very important that dialogicality is present as a principle in the discussions of various issues, so that, for example, in groups of “equals” it was customary to listen to each other in the work on a project, to conduct a real dialogue, not a series of monologues, as it often happens. Such coherence of the team, harmony is based largely on the empathic attitudes and the rules of active listening. Fortunately, the productivity of this approach is now becoming increasingly clear. The popular principles of Agail are just about it: people and their interaction are the most important thing.

“People have been talking to each other for thousands of years. The question is why now it costs $60 an hour”

How did people live for thousands of years without the help of psychologists? Perhaps, it is enough for a person to communicate with friends, parents and loved ones who accept and love him to be healthy?

As psychotherapist Karl Menninger said back, I think, in the '80s: “People have been talking to each other for thousands of years. The question is why now it costs $60 an hour.” That is why there appeared psychotherapy as a profession.

To make it clear, worldly wisdom cannot be underestimated. Indeed, even now, friends and loved ones help us most of all. And I'm all for that to the person feels good and healthy with them. But let's see why professional therapy appeared. It appeared at the very end of the 19th century as a response to the challenges of time, when in the way of life, especially Western, powerful changes began to occur. Human life became less and less regulated from the outside — religion, class rules, etc. The population became more and more urban. Try to imagine the work of a rural psychotherapist, and you will have a scenario of a great sitcom — everyone knows each other, everyone depends on each other.

In the city, life is anonymous, in fact. You can do what you want, the community will not see, will not condemn. It is anonymous on the one hand, but on the other — more complicated, “neurotic”: speed, crowding, and loneliness, constant choice. But on what grounds? How can I choose if the age-old prescriptions are no longer in force? Who am I? What is the meaning of my life? Such questions people hadn't asked themselves so massively for thousands of years because it was all clear to them and prescribed. Human has become much freer, he is the master of his life, but also the responsibility for everything also on his shoulders. And it's very disturbing and scary. Here there appeared the need for such interlocutor who would help to be defined in the own life, to understand himself from himself.

It's not like all these tendencies of change of life of the person and society increase but they are reaching a qualitatively new level, there is a breakdown, apparently, of the last remaining traditions, and our uncertainty and alarm repeatedly increase with it. But, fortunately, the need for another person remains: we still need the other; we can only truly understand ourselves through the other. A psychotherapist is a special other who is included in our life in a certain way while being an outsider. It is this paradoxical combination of being an outsider while being included, as Mikhail Bakhtin called it, and inclusiveness that makes the psychotherapeutic situation special. Such experience still cannot be obtained with loved ones, who are biased characters in our lives.

By the way, the prototype of a psychotherapy situation in everyday life is, most likely, not a confession, how they often write, but, as aptly analyzed by the famous psychotherapist, representative of the first generation of Russian psychologists-practitioners Andrey Kopyev, a conversation with a strange companion, for example in train. Many people are probably familiar with the situation when a complete stranger suddenly says about you, your life what no one has ever told you.

Photo: sostav.ru
In the city, life is anonymous, in fact. You can do what you want, the community will not see, will not condemn. It is anonymous on the one hand, but on the other — more complicated, “neurotic”: speed, crowding and loneliness, constant choice

“It is impossible to show empathy to all at once, even in the feed”

Have modern people become less empathetic from a lot of communication with technology and gadgets? Is it possible to feel a person through communication in social networks? Or they lose emotions and the ability to experience them? After all, it is a common picture in our time that we put a smiley face in messages, but we do not smile in reality. It's a weird game turns out, isn't it?

I think that it is too early to assess modern trends on a full scale. The data is still quite contradictory: in some ways, gadgets divide people, but in some ways, they unite. Some researchers, speaking about the impact of the Internet on communication, suggest that it rather reinforces the trends that would exist without it — due to family situation, character and temperament. I don't think social media is potentially any less “empathogenic”, any less empathic than, for example, reading books.

The problem I see in the abundance of information, that in such situation, attracting attention is possible just through the most emotional forms of presentation. It is burnout in a sense: it is impossible to show empathy to all at once, even in the feed. And in that sense, new symbols, signs to express empathy, emerging rituals well help to cope. Yes, I cannot now empathize to the core, but I will click a like button, make a repost, change the profile picture. We have definitely changed the norms themselves — now it is right to do it and not to ignore it. And in this sense, empathy becomes contagious in a good way: even if I do it now semi-formally, the other will see and do it sincerely and carry on. It seems to me that this is normal against the background of the general trend of increasing understanding of the meaning of empathy.

Photo: vladtime.ru
I think that it is too early to assess modern trends on a full scale. The data is still quite contradictory: in some ways, gadgets divide people, but in some ways they unite

Also, I would not call an action in the absence of feelings necessarily hypocritical — in addition to emotions and feelings, we have thoughts, and in addition to empathy — other mental functions, such as thinking. In the end, a person helps, not only by empathy. There is also a duty, and a rational understanding of benefits for all, etc. It is useful to involve the mind. I'm a little ironic referring to some excesses of the trend, which has already been called “new sensitivity”: when people are offended, any difficulty is called trauma and, at the same time, they consider their feelings the only reality that deserves attention.

So, people do not live by empathy alone, although it is very important. And as a researcher, I can't help but rejoice that empathy is becoming the norm and, in a sense, an imperative in our lives.

By Matvey Antropov