Tip #320: Non-Empathetic Responses

Last week, we posed a test of your ability to identify statements that are empathetic responses. The statements in bold print are empathetic.

The remaining statements give reassurance, attempt to educate, disagree and defend, take responsibility for A’s feelings, give advice, assume understanding and talk about B’s feelings, or start by focusing on A’s feelings but then shift to explaining.

1. Person A: “How could I do something so stupid?”
Person B: “Nobody is perfect; you’re too hard on yourself.” [giving reassurance]

2. Person A: “If you ask me, we ought to ship all these immigrants back to where
they came from.”

Person B: “Do you really think that would solve anything?” [attempting to educate]

3. Person A: “You aren’t God!”
Person B: “Are you feeling frustrated because you would like me to admit that
there can be other ways of interpreting this matter?”

4. Person A: “I think that you take me for granted. I wonder how you would manage
without me.”

Person B: “That’s not true! I don’t take you for granted!” [disagreeing and

5. Person A: “How could you say a thing like that to me?”
Person B: “Are you feeling hurt because I said this?” [taking responsibility for
A’s feelings]

6. Person A: “I’m furious with my husband. He’s never around when I need him.”
Person B: “You think he should be around more than he is?”

[Dr. Rosenberg would prefer: “So, you’re feeling furious because you would like him to be around more than he is?”- because it focuses on feelings and needs rather than thoughts]

7. Person A: “I’m disgusted with how heavy I’m getting.”
Person B: “Perhaps jogging would help.” [giving advice (I’m sure all the women
got this one!)]

8. Person A: “I’ve been a nervous wreck planning for my daughter’s wedding.
Her fiancé’s family is not helping. About every day they change their
minds about the kind of wedding they would like.”

Person B: “So you’re feeling nervous about how to make arrangements and would
appreciate it if your future in-laws could be more aware of the
complications their indecision creates for you?”

9. Person A: “When my relatives come without letting me know ahead of time, I feel
invaded. It reminds me of how my parents used to disregard my needs
and would plan things for me.”

Person B: “I know just how you feel. I used to feel that way, too.” [assuming
understanding then talking about B’s own feelings]

10. Person A: “I’m disappointed with your performance. I would have liked your
department to double your production last month.”

Person B: “I understand that you are disappointed, but we have had many
absences due to illness.” [starting by focusing on A’s feelings but
then shifting to explaining]

Tip #320: Avoiding Burnout that Begins With a Sense of Isolation

“The price for independence is often isolation and solitude.” Steve Schmidt

I realize that I promised another Tip on Nonviolent Communication this week, but I really think we’ve done enough on this. It’s well past time to move on to another subject.

It is spring here in Madison, Wisconsin. Spring is a time of rebirth. Hopefully, the economy is picking up and we are all feeling more on top of our work and our lives. So this week’s topic may seem strange to you.

But for those of us who are sole practitioners, who have been struggling to stay afloat, burnout is a real possibility.

There are three tracks that lead to the stress and the feeling of powerlessness that create extreme exhaustion, otherwise known as burnout. The first track begins with isolation. This Tip looks at the steps along that track and what you can do to help yourself before you get burnt out.

Solo practitioners are on their own. They often have no one with which to discuss business issues or share challenges or serve as a sounding board for new ideas. A solution to isolation is to schedule connection with other people: arrange frequent meetings with colleagues, attend professional association meetings, join internet groups, create a telephone partnership, etc.

Isolation leads to a real lack of support. If you are on your own, there is no one there to take over tasks or provide words of encouragement. Many solo practitioners try to do everything themselves and quickly become overwhelmed. A solution to a lack of support is to identify what you do well and delegate the rest to professionals who have the necessary expertise. You can either trade expertise with another solo practitioner or bite the bullet and pay for expert assistance.

Isolation and a lack of support can lead to a lack of recognition. We’re not talking academy awards here. It is a simple facet of human nature that we like to be recognized for what we do. This is particularly true when we are working day and night, with little to show for our efforts. We want to be recognized for the sacrifices we make in order for our business to succeed. A solution to a lack of recognition is to create a mutual recognition partnership with one or more solo practitioners. Who better than someone in the same situation can truly comprehend what it takes to build and maintain a business.

A lack of recognition leads directly to a lack of appreciation. When we can’t see any tangible accomplishments, or our brief successes get buried under mountains of new tasks and deadlines, it would be nice to have someone who appreciates us and validates our value. A solution to a lack of appreciation is finding someone who is sympathetic and willing to be a cheerleader. It might help to meet weekly with peers and create a ritual wherein everyone has a chance to identify the progress they have made, the challenges they have met, or the successes they have achieved.

When we are isolated, lack support, lack recognition and lack appreciation, it is easy to simply stop growing as a person. Worn down by obligations without end, we are in a survival mode at this point. We have no time or energy to devote to personal growth. A solution to a lack of personal growth is to make a commitment to ensure some balance in our lives. All work and no play results in a very dull person. We need to realize that we will be much better at our work if we take time to learn and try new ideas, techniques, or experiences that are not business-related.

When work is our entire world and there is no relief in sight, it is easy to feel a sense of entrapment. There is a reason that the metaphor for unrelenting work is a rat race, particularly rats running in a maze. We see no way out of our obligations, pressures, and expectations. We start to repress our anxiety and our growing anger- at ourselves and the situation in which we find ourselves. A solution to a sense of entrapment is to remember that we have choices. We do not have to work day and night. We can set or negotiate more reasonable deadlines. We can remember that there is more to life and choose to take time to enjoy it.

The sense of entrapment easily leads to stress. Without some release, our anxiety and tension can grow until it literally brings us to a breaking point. Our health gets compromised, because we frequently deny ourselves adequate rest, relaxation, or even nutrition. The caffeine and sugar we depend on to keep going when we are absolutely exhausted give us only brief highs and much longer lows. We literally have no resilience. A solution to stress is to recognize it and build some balance into our lives to repair our emotional, physical and spiritual health. Then rather than agonizing and worrying about things, we need to look for workable solutions.

Burnout that begins with isolation and follows this track will end in a feeling of powerlessness. This is a deeply depressive place that sees no light or hope of rescue or relief. We firmly believe that there is nothing we can do to help ourselves. We are buffeted by the economy and our competition; stymied by our inability to gain clients or sell products; overwhelmed by new technology and social media; too exhausted to do anything more or learn anything new. All we want to do is curl up and die.

A solution to this feeling of powerlessness is again to recognize that we have choices. The very first choice when we reach this terrible state of being is to get professional help. We need help to understand the choices (what they were and why we made them) that got us to this point. We also need help to be able to make the choice to take the necessary time to rest and heal.

Once we are burnt out, we have nothing to offer ourselves or anyone else. It is virtually impossible to run a healthy business or live a healthy life when we are so devastated and exhausted. So let’s not get to this point! If you find yourself anywhere along this track, step off of it and take constructive action to eliminate or address the potential burnout pitfalls.


In next week’s Tip, we will look at the second track to burnout that begins with worry.

May your learning be sweet.

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