People always like to feel heard. Often, they need to feel heard in order to move past a difficult experience or process something exciting or upsetting. Knowing how to ask the right questions is a way to show empathy and can a powerful tool for building trust and intimacy.
One of the biological features that makes us good listeners are mirror neurons. These little important brain cells allow us to recognize, acknowledge, and empathize with the people we are listening to. Ever heard the expression "monkey see, monkey do?"? Turns out it is a pretty profound insight of neuroscience. Our brain cells called mirror neurons which give us the ability to experience what those we interact with are experiencing. Ever gotten weepy after watching a sappy commercial? Or scared during a movie? That's your mirror neurons at work. One of the challenges of mostly digital communication via texts and emails is that we lose the insights offered by our mirror neurons. Some researchers have found that when we communicate and do not have the experience of our emotions mirrored back to us in a display of empathy, we can develop a neuron-receptor deficit, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation even in a see of online communication.
Here is an empathy script from Mark Goulston's book Just Listen:
First, attach an emotion to what your conversation partner is feeling. Let’s use anger as an example.
Next, ask him or her if your perceptions are accurate by saying something like: “I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling and I think it’s anger. Is that correct? If not, what are you feeling?”
Then, once you’ve established which emotion they’re feeling, ask: “How angry are you?” Be prepared for an emotional response, and allow plenty of time for their answer. Remember: this isn’t about you, so don’t get defensive.
Next, find out why they’re angry by saying something like: “And the reason you’re so angry is because …?”
After they’ve answered, say: “Tell me – what needs to happen for that feeling to feel better?”
Finally, find out how the two of you can work together to move forward; ask: “What can I do to make that happen? What can you do to make that happen?”