Empathy, Attention And Respect – Calming Upset People

October 30, 2015

Empathy, Attention and Respect – Calming Upset People

Conflict is everywhere. It is best to expect it and be prepared for it.

Whether it transpires in a personal relationship, at home or at work, all of us have experienced conflict in our lives. It can be awkward, stressful and hard to deal with, but it can also be an important part of the human experience. If conflict is proactively addressed, it can be the catalyst for positive change.

October 15th is conflict resolution day in Canada. To honour the day, Communica team members participated in a workshop put on by the Alberta Justice and Solicitor General called, Calming Upset People.

The central theme of the workshop was to practice empathy, attention and respect, or E.A.R., to connect with a distressed person.

Most often, conflict ensues when someone feels their interests have been challenged or threatened. The most powerful of these consist of our need to feel accepted, competent, to belong and to feel appreciated and secure. It is important to acknowledge these feelings before engaging in a conflict situation, as they can help us reframe our approach and respond with more empathy, attention and respect.


Displaying empathy to a distressed person shows that you can connect with and understand the pain and frustration they are experiencing. This human interaction comes naturally for most of us, and we are often easily triggered to feel empathetic toward people we are close with, such as co-workers, family and friends. When we show empathy for others we open the door to productive dialogue.

Examples of empathetic statements include:

  • I can see how important this is to you.
  • I understand that this can be frustrating.
  • I know this process can be confusing.
  • I’d like to help if I can.
  • Let’s see if we can solve this together.


Following an empathetic response to a conflict scenario, it is important to show attention to the distressed individual by giving them your time. When someone is upset it is often because they feel ignored and are simply looking for attention and assistance to help solve their issue.

You can show attention to someone verbally by saying:

  • Tell me what’s going on.
  • Have a seat – let’s talk about this.

You can show attention non-verbally with the following gestures:

  • Establish eye contact.
  • Nod your head.
  • Lean in.


The most distressed people tend to be those who continuously feel disrespected and ultimately just want to be heard and appreciated. When we show respect to others in a conflict situation, we help calm them down.

Examples of respect statements include:

  • I can see that you are a hard worker.
  • I respect your commitment to solving the problem.
  • You have important skills that we need to solve this problem.
  • I respect your efforts on this.

If you are preparing to deal with a conflict situation ask yourself: how could the other individual have reached their current position on the issue? Why haven’t they made the same decisions or conclusions I have regarding the situation? It is also important to remember:

  • The situation is not about you.
  • Monitor what you are thinking and feeling (what assumptions am I making, do I have a bias, etc.)
  • Tell the truth.
  • Look after yourself (you do not have to tolerate abuse or inappropriate behavior).
  • You do not have to agree or disagree with the distressed person.

When you put it all together, E.A.R. can be an effective process that helps alleviate frustration and leave one with a sense of openness, relief, peace of mind, and in the end, can help strengthen relationships.

E.A.R. photo

Congratulations to Samantha Hudec, Natasha Kappell, Bridget Honch, Jenna McMath, and Karlene Pitze for successfully completing the workshop. (Pictured here from left to right).

  • Bridget Honch