Hello dear readers!
Many of you may recognize my work for the Savannah Morning News and Do Savannah with articles about the Savannah Voice Festival, "Hair" and Savannah Dancing with the Stars. What you may not know is that I also host a radio program on WRUU-FM 107.5 on Sundays at 3 p.m. On The Adam Messer Show, I interview authors, artists and entertainers on the all-volunteer community radio station.Get Savannah arts and culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and food newsletters
Working with Savannah Morning News Multimedia Content Editor Zach Dennis, I wanted to crossover the interviews I do on my radio show to the readership of Do Savannah. I have interviewed best-selling authors, award-winning actors, musicians and artists on my radio show. I love talking with indie creators about their creative works, the process and how they overcame life happened events to achieve their goals.
This week's guest is Michael Sorensen. He is the bestselling author of "I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships" and discovered some strong insights into validation and empathetic listening communication listening skills after working with a therapist for years. By sharing those insights, Sorensen is teaching people how to build stronger and more connected relationships.
Question: Please talk about your background.
Sorensen: "I 'stumbled' across some pretty incredible life and relationship skills while working with a therapist for a number of years and ultimately felt compelled to share those insights with the world. When I’m not promoting these and helping people build stronger, more satisfying relationships, I’m leading a team of about 25 individuals as the vice president of marketing at a global health & fitness company."
Q: What made you decide to write "I Hear You: The Surpisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships?"
Sorensen: "The skills I had learned in therapy were so powerful that I couldn’t help but try to share them with others. I remember thinking to myself, 'How is it that we’re not taught this?' This is the stuff we need most in life, but are rarely (if ever) taught. After searching for books and articles that taught these principles in the way I felt was most effective — and turning up empty-handed — I decided to write my own."
Q: What are some of the key principles of validation?
Sorensen: "Validation is, in essence, helping someone feel heard and understood. That means firstly, recognizing whatever emotion someone is feeling, and secondly, offering some sort of justification for that emotion. For example, if your spouse comes to you frustrated about something that happened at work, rather than jumping in with advice or assurance (e.g. 'I’m sure you’ll feel better tomorrow'), your spouse likely wants you to respond with some sort of shared feeling and appreciation. For example: 'Ugh. Will that guy ever learn?'
That response is validating (shows appreciation for or acceptance of what your spouse is feeling) because you suggest that you feel just as frustrated as they are. You express frustration of your own (the emotion) and validate/justify it with your comment 'Will that guy ever learn?!'"
Q: How can someone become a better empathetic listener?
Sorensen: "First, it’s important to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is standing on the outside of a situation and looking in (e.g. 'I’m sorry you’re sad.') Empathy is stepping into the situation with the other person and feeling the emotion with them (e.g. 'Wow, this is sad')."
If you’re struggling to feel empathy for someone while you’re listening to them, the following tips may help:
1. "Get curious. Ask yourself questions such as, 'What is this person’s background? Could past issues be influencing their reaction? What if someone had done that to me? How would I feel? If I haven’t had a similar experience, have I ever felt a similar emotion?'"
2. "Look at them. Take a moment to see the other person on a deeper level. Make eye contact. Recognize that they are a human being with fears, hopes, uncertainties, pain, and joy. Recognize that their life may be a lot harder than you know."
3. "Imagine them as a child. Try picturing the other person as a four-year-old version of themselves. Because showing emotion is considered a sign of weakness in many cultures, it can be difficult to empathize with adults who may be having a hard time. Picturing the other person as a young child can help remove this stigma and make it easier to feel genuine empathy."
4. "Learn to identify your own emotions. Become better at identifying others’ emotions by getting in the habit of identifying your own. Consider setting a reminder in your phone each day to check in with yourself and take inventory of how you’re feeling."
5. "Quit judging your own emotions. The next time you notice an emotion — any emotion — rising up inside you, check to see if you’re suppressing, avoiding, or accepting it. The more you practice recognizing, accepting and validating your own emotions the easier it will be to develop empathy for, and then validate, the emotions of others."
Q: Why are these two skill sets so important in today’s world?
Sorensen: "These are critical because we as humans have an innate desire and need to feel heard and understood. We want to feel appreciated and accepted. Empathy and validation are two key ways we show that acceptance and love toward others. When we invalidate people’s comments, such as responding with comments such as 'you’ll be fine' or 'don’t worry about it,' we inadvertently downplay what the other person is feeling, which pushes them away and/or encourages them to bury emotions that they actually need to process."
Q: What is a question you wish someone would ask you, but has not yet?
Sorensen: "One insight I’ve gained as of late is this: you don’t always have to explicitly state the emotion you’re validating, or explicitly say, 'I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.' It’s every bit as effective (and often times feels more sincere) to simply jump in mid-conversation when your co-worker is venting to you about your boss and say '…especially since you worked so hard on that!' or 'You’ve got to be kidding me.' These two responses still satisfy the two requirements for validation, but do so in a less 'clinical' way. There are a million different ways to convey the key message of, 'I understand why you feel that way.'
Listen to The Adam Messer Show on Apple Podcasts or on WRUU-FM 107.5 on Sunday at 3 p.m.