Interrupt to Connect
Have you ever tried to offer someone empathy only to see it bounce off of them? Sometimes it's as though people have a force field. They respond to your guess at their feelings and needs by telling their story again, by trying to problem solve and analyze, or by criticizing themselves and others.
You'd like to connect, but can't find a way.
It's time to interrupt.
A lot of people don't know how to create the connection for which they are longing. How can you help?
Immediately state your intention to connect:
"Hang on, I'm really wanting to get (connect with) what you're saying and I'm not sure if I am. Are you feeling irritated in that situation because you need mutuality or was it more about being heard?"
Don't give up, if they ignore your guess, try again:
"Let me guess again and see if I'm getting it. Was a lack of cooperation the hard part?"
Reflect the thoughts back before moving to feelings and needs:
"Yeah, you're thinking they were wrong for doing that, huh?"
Say what you notice is happening with your guesses:
"Hey, Chris, I am noticing that I am making guesses about what you were experiencing and not getting a response from you. Could you tell me if I am in the ball park with my guesses just now?"
If they don't connect with feelings, try just guessing needs:
"Are you needing some consideration?"
Express your own feelings and needs:
"I notice I am feeling a frustrated because I want to connect and I don't have any relationship to fishing (the topic at hand). Could we could talk about something we have in common. For instance, I'd love to hear about your garden?"
Move to the heart of the matter:
This is especially useful when someone is telling a story you have heard before or sharing more details than you enjoy hearing:
"I've heard this story before so there must be something I'm not getting about it that you want me to hear, is it.....?" OR
Just as they are starting the same story: "Yeah you told me about this, I'm guessing it was a shocking interaction, huh, sounds like you're still processing it?" OR
"I am getting lost in the details. Was the main thing about this experience that…?"
Offer vulnerability about the impact on you and immediately offer a new topic:
"Ugh talking about this gets me depressed, let's talk about something else. What are you doing for spring break this year?"
Prepare to offer empathy beforehand:
With family this can be pretty easy because the content is more predictable. You can reflect on past conversations with empathy and it prepares you for fluent guesses for next time.
The most important thing to remember is that you are interrupting to connect and this takes courage. Interrupting might mean some awkwardness, or conflict at first. You may have had training in your family of origin that taught you to attempt to maintain harmony at all costs. The cost of not working hard to maintain harmony back then may have been violence or abandonment. Hopefully your circumstances have changed and the cost now is simply discomfort.
As you learn to trust and discover the power of interrupting to connect, you may find that you are less and less willing to sacrifice a moment of this precious life for keeping the peace, being polite, or acting from obligation. You might also find that you can create connection in even the most challenging of circumstances.
You can help your body learn that it is now safe and even helpful to interrupt by beginning your practice with people you trust. As you develop some confidence, try small interruptions with people who would like to connect with, but don't know how they will respond to your interruptions.