3 steps from hostility to empathy

How to create safe spaces for empathetic conversations

Empathy is one of the best tools we can use when we’re in a hostile conversation. In these often emotionally charged scenarios, creating a ‘safe space’ is the first step towards engaging with empathy.

I define a safe space as a mental, emotional, and, if necessary, physical environment where perspectives can be shared freely without judgment or harassment.

Here are some helpful steps for creating this kind of safe space.

  1. Recognize the conflict. It’s easy to get sucked into an argument before we’re even aware of what’s happening. I find it helpful to note what triggers me to react defensively or aggressively and use those ‘triggers’ as warning signs for potential conflict.
  2. Reframe for connection. Take a moment to focus the conversation on connecting with the other person — not changing them, proving your point, or explaining why they’re wrong.
  3. Respond with curiosity. Ask generous, open-ended questions to better understand their perspective (even if you think you already know it).

A safe space not only helps us to better empathize, it also empowers others to engage with honesty and vulnerability.

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