In the first part of this blog, we went over some key components when talking to someone using empathy. We spoke about adopting a non-judgemental perspective, making an effort to see the world through the other’s perspective, being in touch with our feelings and distinguishing our story from theirs when speaking to the other. In this part we will focus on how we can communicate to others using empathy.

How to communicate empathically

According to Brown staying away from the phrase ‘at least’ is key here. Let’s imagine your friend just miscarried a much-wanted baby, if your response would be on the lines of “at least you can get pregnant” or “at least you are still young, you can still have children” it is not what that grieving person needs at that moment, and it shows that you are not understanding how deeply that mother or father is hurt by the loss of their child. A more empathic comment could be “I can understand you must be extremely hurt because of this, and I am deeply sorry it happened to you. How can I support you?”

Ask the right questions

Sometimes I am surprised by the details some people ask and their interest in the nitty gritty and sordid aspects of a story and yet do not focus on the pain of the person they are talking to. The first thing that comes to mind when I see this happening is that rather than truly being concerned, this person is just gathering details to share in the next gossip session. It could be that the person who is being asked these questions will also have this feeling. 

Most of the clients I work with, who go through a difficult process, often talk about how uncomfortable they feel when this happens and how hurt they feel when they know their pain has been used as fodder for a gossip session. If you are truly concerned about the person who is struggling, focus on the person not on the story.

Reach into your own experiences

Instead try connecting to a situation when you were struggling and understand what was helpful and what was not helpful in these situations. Research suggests remembering situations where you needed help and received the right kind of help. Usually people feel supported when the person they are talking to is fully present and not judgemental and just sat with them and helped process the pain. 

What not to do in these situations

What usually does not help is when the person who is trying to be supportive turns the conversation towards their issues and becomes inattentive. Another thing to keep in mind is avoiding cliches like “everything happens for a reason” or quick fixes and advice if you are not asked for it. What the person who is struggling truly needs is the space to discuss and process what they went through. Advice and shallow statements usually do not help this process.

To sum up, check in regularly with the person you are reaching out to help and simply listen, giving them your full attention and if you are stuck about what to say authors suggest that it is fine to start by saying ‘I don’t know what to say but I am here for you.’

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Sonya Galea is a family therapist with Willingness Team. She works with families and couples experiencing couple relationship issues and parenting struggles.


Brown, B. (2008). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Telling the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy and power. Avery. 

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Rischer, B. (2018, August 18). 12 Things to do when someone you love is struggling with mental health. Self  Retrieved from12 Things to Do When Someone You Love Is Struggling With Mental Health | SELF

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