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Talking to Others: How to Be Empathetic & Effective

Talking to Others: How to be Empathetic & EffectiveInterpersonal communication — you know, talking with others — can be a tough nut to crack sometimes. Whether it be between family, colleagues or just plain socially, there is a delicate balance to strike between empathy and effectiveness.

Empathy begins with listening, of course, so it’s no wonder that many of us prefer talking! It extends to finding the right way to “connect back” with what a person said, especially if you disagree or are even offended. 

Reaction is so much easier than reflection and response. On the spot, who even has time for reflection?

Effectiveness is about getting your message across such that you feel empowered (but not cocky). You want the receiver to listen and respond favorably (such as listening further or providing feedback or help).

Some powerful empathetic and effective messages might be to say “I am just not sure about [our child’s] withdrawal behavior of late,” or “I would like the opportunity to have my ideas discussed at the next team meeting” or “I am sorry, but I am just not going to be able to loan you our garden tools, but I do have an old pair of clippers that you are welcome to have.”

Note the above three expressions. They could have been said in very different ways. But they are good examples of likely some forethought about difficult situations, ones in which you want to be sure to convey sensitivity to the other person. Instead of jamming a message across, they convey strength and thoughtfulness.

When you find yourself having to conjure up this tricky blend without warning, the situation is different, certainly.  Sometimes the best advice is to defer until you can reflect appropriately and then reengage.  (Walking away and saying that you need some time to think on something; saying that you’ll need to call someone back a little later; simply expressing that you do not know how to, or care to, respond to what was said.)

Some barriers?  (Despite the obvious, that emotions and ego jump in the way):

  • Lack of interest on our parts to hearing what others want and need to say
  • Insecurity, fears, prejudices
  • Thinking on the past
  • Focusing on the person and not the content (message)
  • Inflexibility and resistance to viewpoints different from your own
  • Lack of gratitude
  • Focusing only on your own pain and difficulty

Some things that might help?

  • Reflect on your feelings about the message.  Are they getting in the way of your thoughts?
  • Ask for a clarification when needed
  • Ask the other person what it is that they would like from you
  • Focus on points of connection

For the best talk possible, keep in mind: you don’t have to forego integrity to have empathy, and you don’t have to be aggressive to get your words heard and respected.

Talking to Others: How to Be Empathetic & Effective

Lisa A. Miles

Lisa A. MilesLisa A. Miles has been uniquely blending her expertise in self-development, mental health and the creative arts for over 25 years. Based in Pittsburgh, Penn., she is a coach/ consultant who advises individually and for business, author of two books (one about an institutionalized artist), professional speaker, and composer/ performer on violin and mandolin (including collaborative work with Jungian therapists). Also available as a coach working virtually, Lisa is included in the international Life Quality Improvement directory. Please check out her webpage at

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APA Reference
Miles, L. (2018). Talking to Others: How to Be Empathetic & Effective. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Jun 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.