7 phrases that signal deep empathy and understanding (without being cliché)

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Empathy lets people know:

“I totally get where you’re coming from!”

It’s about not just offering our sympathy, but showing that we understand the way that someone else thinks and feels.

It’s a really important quality to display in our communication with others if we want to strengthen our rapport and relationship with them.

Here are some phrases that can help you to do that…

1) Phrases that summarize how someone feels

A lot of the time when we talk to someone about what’s going on for us, we’re looking for one key thing:

To be listened to.

The mistake so many of us make is thinking we should jump in with solutions and fixes.

It’s usually very well-meaning but it can be counterproductive. Rather than feel cared for, people end up feeling unheard.

That’s why if you want to show empathy and understanding it can be a good idea to use certain phrases that show you were listening.

You might consider briefly summarising what someone has said and repeating it back to them.

However note: this isn’t the same as parroting back exactly what they said. The important part is interpreting and then reflecting it back to them.

For example:

  • Let’s see if I have this right…
  • It sounds like what you’re telling me is…
  • Have I got that right?

2) Phrases that clarify how someone feels

Of course, sometimes in order to really understand we need to ask more questions.

It’s often dangerous to assume we know exactly how others feel. In fact, plenty of misunderstandings can arise from this hasty error.

It’s never empathetic to pretend you get how someone is feeling when really you don’t.

Chances are, it will only sound fake and uncaring.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone to pinpoint more specifically what it is they feel.

This not only helps you to understand them better, but it may also help them gain greater clarity over their own emotions.

For example:

  • I want to better understand, can you tell me more
  • I want to hear more about how you’re feeling
  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What is it about the situation that bothered you the most (or hurt you the most) do you think?

3) Phrases that show you understand how someone feels

We all want to feel understood.

It helps us to feel less alone when we can say what’s on our mind, and someone else seems to just get it.

That’s why it is so powerful when you are able to understand what it is someone is trying to tell you.

By noting the core emotion and experience they are going through you help them to feel heard.

For example:

  • I can sense that you feel strongly about this
  • I can see how much that’s gotten to you
  • It seems to me that you’re having some mixed feelings and may be conflicted
  • I know that you’re really hurting right now, I can tell
  • Thank you for sharing that with me, I know it can’t have been easy

We don’t always need to go through the exact same situation to show that we can identify the emotions that are coming up for someone.

4) Phrases that acknowledge how someone feels

When someone comes to you with their troubles, your instincts might be to try to make them feel better.

But this is yet another well-meaning habit that can totally set the wrong tone. 

If you go to someone and pour your heart out, and they feed you cliches about looking on the bright side, that’s not cheering them up.

It’s actually bordering on toxic positivity and will likely make them feel dismissed.

You want to let them know that you appreciate what it is they are feeling, so they feel validated. 

For example:

  • That must have been awful for you
  • Sounds like a very scary experience
  • I’m sorry that you went through that, it must have been very difficult for you
  • That sounds really challenging
  • I recognize just how stressful all this must be

5) Phrases that justify how someone feels

This is all about letting someone know that what they are feeling is okay.

You show them that they are not only safe to feel this way and express it to you. But you totally see why they feel this way.

You are saying to them “I get ya”.

This can allow people to feel vindicated as well as seen and heard.

For example:

  • That’s understandable
  • I can imagine how angry I’d feel if that happened to me too
  • Your feelings are valid
  • I’d probably have done the same thing in your shoes
  • If I’d gone through what you are going through I’m sure I’d also feel really sad/confused/angry, etc.
  • I think how you are feeling is totally normal considering what’s happened
  • I think you’re right
  • Please remember that it’s okay to feel this way

6) Phrases that reassure someone you’re right there with them

This type of empathy is about letting someone know that you are sharing in their pain because you truly care.

It can really help someone to feel both understood and supported at the same time.

It’s empathy mixed with sympathy, which lets them know that they are not alone.

For example:

  • I hate to see you like this
  • It hurts me to see you in so much pain
  • I wish I could do something more to make you feel better
  • I know what you’re going through and I’m here for you
  • I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I’m here for you
  • I feel so sad knowing this has happened to you
  • If you want to talk about it, know that I’m always more than happy to listen
  • I wish I had the right words to say, but know that I’m here

7) Phrases that offer reassurance or encouragement

Sometimes we just need a little bit of comfort to know that we’re doing the best we can.

That’s when understanding words can encourage us during difficult situations and times in our lives.

You are acknowledging how hard things are but simultaneously praising someone’s efforts in dealing with things.

For example:

  • You’re doing a really good job in very difficult circumstances
  • I think you’re being incredibly patient
  • I’m proud of how you’ve handled this
  • It sounds to me like you did everything you could

Remember that actions speak just as loudly as words

It’s great if we can communicate our empathy when we speak to people. But that doesn’t just need to be exclusively through our words.

We can get the message across in so many ways.

That might be through actively listening to others without interruption. It could be by offering them a comforting touch or a sympathetic smile.

We might do it with kind gestures that make someone feel supported.

We also show empathy when we respect people’s boundaries and create a safe space for them to share.

And we lead by example when we share our own vulnerabilities that signal it’s okay for others to do the same.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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