Empathy is one of the best gifts one human can give to another.
It helps heal broken hearts, take the weight off your shoulders, and helps you feel heard and connected.
A lot of people want to show empathy, but don’t know how exactly to do it right. They might end up saying things that actually make the situation worse.
Expressing empathy well takes emotional intelligence.
I spent a lot of time and energy improving my own emotional intelligence so I could be a better person.
And I’ve learned what kind of phrases really help someone show true empathy.
Let’s have a look at what they are.
1) “I can see that you’re going through a tough time.”
What’s the first thing most people do when you share a problem or a difficult feeling with them?
They try to offer solutions or reassurance. Their intentions may be in the right place, and those solutions may actually genuinely be helpful.
But you probably know from experience that that’s not what you need when you share your feelings with someone else.
What you want, first and foremost, is to feel heard and understood, and like your feelings matter.
The phrase “I can see that you’re going through a tough time” is a powerful way to do that. It acknowledges the other person’s struggle without trying to cover it up with a bandaid.
You can make the phrase more specific if you like. For example, “I can see that having a healthy relationship means a lot to you, and so this fight is having a huge impact on you right now.”
Or, you can also invite the person to share more about their feelings with you themselves. You can do this by adding “I can see that you’re going through a tough time. How would you describe what exactly you’re feeling?”
You’re showing the person that you’re present with them in their discomfort and giving them space to process their emotions.
2) “That sounds really challenging. How are you coping?”
Above, we mentioned that solutions are often the first thing people offer when they try to express empathy.
Well, now we’re going to look at a better way to do that.
Instead of telling the person what they should do, ask them what they’re already doing to deal with the situation by asking “How are you coping?”
This is better for several reasons.
First of all, it helps you get a better understanding of the situation in general. You can’t begin to offer advice unless you understand the context well enough, so if you start to give advice too early it may be completely irrelevant.
And second, you’ll get to know what kind of solutions they have or have not tried yet, and why. Maybe your suggestion is something they’re already done, and they’re tired of hearing people suggest it to them again.
3) “I appreciate you sharing that with me. It helps me understand your perspective better.”
No matter what the topic at hand is, sharing feelings isn’t always easy.
People might have trust issues, or have bad experiences with conversations like this from the past. Or they might feel scared that they’re bothering you.
So whenever someone shows you trust by opening up to you about their feelings, make sure to acknowledge what a big step this could be, and let them know that you appreciate it.
It shows them that this is a safe space to share their feelings, and helps them feel like their emotions are validated and heard.
It also confirms to them that your intentions are to understand them better, and that this conversation is something positive for both of you. Therefore, it invites further conversation that will lead to a productive outcome.
4) “I can’t imagine exactly what you’re feeling, but I’m here to listen and support you.”
Have you ever shared something with someone, just to have them say, “Oh, the same thing happened to me!” And off they go talking about their own experience?
Well, on some level this can be helpful and empathetic.
When I was sharing my relationship struggles with a friend, it actually gave me great comfort to have him share his own struggles in his relationship.
It helped me see that I wasn’t alone, and that even people whose relationship I greatly admire have the same difficulties.
But what really doesn’t help is when people try to empathize in this way when they really don’t have a similar experience.
Maybe they think the experience is the same, but you would just end up feeling frustrated that they can’t see the difference or are shifting the attention on themselves.
So if you’re not 100% sure you can relate to the person, use this phrase to still express empathy as an emotionally intelligent person.
Remember, you don’t need to have the exact same experience, or even any similar experience, in order to help the person feel understood.
5) “What can I do to support you?”
This phrase is perfect for all the people out there who like to fix problems.
Do you want to offer a solution to the person sharing their troubles? That’s great — you obviously really want to help them.
But it’s best to do it in an emotionally intelligent way, and ask them for their own input in the process as well.
Because your solution is probably something that you would do if it were your life. But the thing is, it’s their life. Their circumstances, background, and feelings are completely different from yours.
And only they have the full context of everything that’s related to what they’re going through right now.
It’s possible they won’t know what to suggest for how you can help. But by asking them, you show them that you’re taking into consideration what’s best for them by putting their needs first.
6) “It sounds like you’re saying…”
A great way to express empathy effectively and show you’re really listening is to mirror the person’s feelings back to them. And you can do that by using the phrase, “It sounds like you’re saying…”
For example, if your friend says, “I’m so frustrated with my job. My manager doesn’t value my work and it feels like all my efforts are going unnoticed,” you can reply, “It sounds like you’re saying that you’re feeling unappreciated and overlooked at work.”
When you use this phrase, you’re actually letting the other person know you’re genuinely trying to understand their thoughts and feelings.
It shows that you’re not just hearing the words they’re saying, but that you’re also trying to grasp the emotion and meaning behind those words.
Also, by summarizing and reflecting back what you heard, it helps clear up any potential misunderstandings. It provides the speaker with the opportunity to confirm if you have accurately understood their feelings and situation.
That’s why this phrase is extremely useful during disagreements. By repeating the person’s words back to them, you’re letting them know that you’re acknowledging their viewpoint, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.
7) “I can understand why you would feel that way.”
Finally, another phrase emotionally intelligent people use to express empathy is “I can understand why you’d feel this way.”
You probably know from experience that when people go through a hard time, it’s easy to start doubting your own feelings. You might wonder if you’re overreacting or think that you shouldn’t feel the way you do.
If you’ve ever gone through this, you know how lonely and isolating it can be.
So that’s why this phrase is so effective at showing empathy. It reassures the person that their feelings are valid and that their emotional reactions are not strange, unexpected, or unwarranted.
In other words, you’re saying that their feelings make sense in the context of their experience – and if you were in their shoes, you might feel the same way.
For example, consider a situation where your friend shares with you that they feel inadequate after being passed over for a promotion at work, and therefore also resentful towards their boss, and guilty for being angry instead of happy for the person who got the promotion.
That’s a lot of difficult emotions, and the person is clearly struggling with it. In this case, they don’t need a solution, because they just need to process their feelings.
And this phrase gives them a safe space to do that.
Boost your ability to empathize
Now you know 7 excellent phrases that emotionally intelligent people use to express empathy.
What does this mean? Well, now you know how to react the next time you’re talking with someone going through a rough time.
These 7 phrases won’t revolutionize your empathy skills, but they are an excellent boost.
As you practice using them, you’ll notice the difference in the conversation and the person’s reactions.
You’ll gradually learn more ways to express empathy effectively, and it will surely help you make enormous progress on your personal development journey.