Ever find yourself struggling to know what to do or say when someone you know is struggling? When their crying, or upset, or unusually quiet?

Have you ever felt dismissed or unheard in conversations with others? Perhaps you’ve done the same to someone else? I’ve definitely been on both sides of this relational dynamic.

I believe many of us want to develop better connections with people we love and even those we barely know. We struggle to know what to say or how to respond. Especially, when the other person is struggling.

Our discomfort with other people’s discomfort can keep us from connecting, if we allow it.

Or, we can choose to cultivate empathic connection through these four aspects of attunement.

Attunement is one of the concepts I’ve been learning a great deal about in grad school. (I’m getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling.) 

It’s something we can all learn about and I’m convinced that the more we do, the more we’ll experience beauty in relationships with one another. And, with God.

Cultivate Empathic Connection in Relationships

4 Ways to Cultivate Empathic Connections through Attunement

Attunement is the way we connect to another person’s experience and respond to them where they’re at. We meet them in the highs and lows, the pit or the well. By responding to where a person is emotionally, we can provide the sense of feeling seen, heard, and valued. As clinical psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel says, attunement provides the feeling of being felt.

Can you recall a time you’ve experienced feeling felt?

Perhaps, you wrestled with something, and maybe you didn’t even know what it was. Someone came along. They listened. They looked you in the eyes. They responded with care. And afterwards, even though the issue hasn’t resolved, you felt calmer. You felt being felt.

Tuning-in to another’s frustrations or sadness, excitement or disappointment, isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us. We can grow in this capacity though, and by doing so we cultivate empathic connections with others.

This ability to resonate with another person nurtures safety and trust so relationships can grow.

Here are 4 ways to cultivate this process.

NOTE: The video below goes into more depth about each concept discussed.

1. Be Present

The gift of presence seems like a simple act, yet it’s one that requires intentionality. Presence is more than physical. It’s an act of being with.

Being with.

What does that mean to you? What might it mean to someone you’re frustrated with or challenged by?

Presence that attunes with another person requires mental and emotional being with. Our thoughts and attention are on what they’re saying and what they’re experiencing. It is not on what we want to say next, or how we disagree.

To be present with others gives the opportunity to experience God’s presence with us. He works through people.

Presence allows another person to feel seen, known, loved, valued, and felt.

Begin connection by intentionally providing presence, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

2. Show Care

By showing care we take presence to the next level. Care is about the other person and where they’re at now, not where you expect them to be or how you expect them to get there. It may include that suggestions and calls to action, but care comes first.

This may be helpful to remember, particularly if you struggle to care about what the other person’s experiencing over what you experience.

Attunement is about connection. Not correction.

You can disagree with another person’s decisions and actions, and still care about who a person is and the struggle they face. Sometimes, what’s said and done is part of a process of growth. It’s messy, not meticulous.

When we let go of the need to fix, correct, and make right in the moment, we can attune with care. If we are able to experience and express emotions that match their, we provide a safe place for them to work out pain and confusion.

This means that when they are sad, we don’t push them towards happiness. Instead, we may feel some of the sadness they feel. When they are angry and hurt, we can identify and resonate with their anger without escalating it. More on this in the video below.

3. Notice

To care well, and to be present, we need to be aware of what’s going on within us and with others.

Notice when you’re feeling tension, fear, and anxiety. By noticing you can be aware of when you need to take deep breaths, or remind yourself that their struggle is their struggle. Not yours.

This phase of cultivating connection though, is more about noticing what’s going on with another person.

Consider this. When do they light up when their talking? When do they look away? What part of their story seems particularly challenging? What desires or interests do you hear that go deeper than the words they’re saying?

It’s important to notice what’s happening within us so we don’t become emotionally flooded and/or triggered in such a way that we can no longer listen.

It is also important to see (notice) what is easily dismissed in the words and actions of another person. Fears and hurts sometimes surface through few words or changes in body language. You never know when noticing a subtle shift, then asking about it, may open the door to greater healing and connection.

4. Attend

When you notice something, get curious. Consider saying what you notice. Your words may help put words to something another can’t identify. You may not get it right as you say what you observe. Humble curiosity is key.

Curiosity includes asking question to find out more. “Tell me more,” are three powerful words that invite connection.

Think about a time when you were in pain and it was hard to express the truth of your internal struggle. Imagine that you you begin to say something that’s hard to say.

Which response would be more meaningful? When the listener tells you what to feel, do and think? Or when the listener either invites further exploration though words like, “tell me more.” Or, when they provide quiet space so more words or feelings can surface?

Attending to another person is following up care with some kind of action that promotes connection. Not correction.

There is time for correction, but it’s more likely to have an impact when it’s fueled first by love and connection.

I hope these four tips help you when you need to cultivate connection with others, or need it from them. May we give and receive.

#UnleashSheets prompts can be used with Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets for personal growth and healing. Choose 1 at a time.
This tool facilitates a process with God to experience more of Him and practice hearing from Him.
More information on Unleash Sheets can be found on this site and on ACultivatedLife.Me

Find Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets here.

    1. Think of a time when you felt dismissed, or you were dismissive of another person. This may be when they were sharing something exciting or hard. It could be a friend, a parent, a child, a spouse, or an acquaintance. What happened? Describe the situation and explore feelings and thoughts tied to this experience.

    2. What struggle are you afraid to tell others about? What are you keeping to yourself, but doing so is causing distress? Describe it and explore it with God. Honestly. Give God the opportunity to reveal His love with you.

    3. Recall a time when you felt better after sharing your excitement or sadness or frustration with another person. What happened? What was said or done? How did you feel before talking and after wards?