Empathy statements are one of the most important elements of the work that you do on a crisis line, a helpline or a suicide hotline. Empathy statements are sentences that incorporate feeling words into them, so that the person you’re speaking to realizes you’re making an effort to understand them.
Empathy statements are very useful in communicating that you care to other people, but they can feel unnatural at first before you get used to them. They are a skill though, that you will pick up over time. Your empathy statements will begin to be more variable and feel less robotic as time goes on.
The basic empathy statement formula is an opener, followed by some sort of emotion.
Openers are things that you say to begin the sentence. They include things like:
- It sounds like
- You must be feeling
- That sounds very
- That seems really
These aren’t really the important part of the sentence. All that matters is that at the end of the sentence, you say an emotion.
- It sounds like you’re exhausted.
- You must be feeling frustrated.
- That sounds really overwhelming.
- That seems really worrying.
By citing an emotion, the person has something to go on, you’ve reached beneath the content of what they were saying into their emotional state. Even if you’re wrong! If you say “That must be really frustrating” and the person says, “No, it’s not frustrating as much as it is sad”, they still appreciate the effort and now you have a little bit better of a view into their situation.
Keeping a list of feeling words is helpful for making empathy statements. Sometimes people will rely on the same few emotion words like stuck, frustrated, or annoyed while neglecting words that may more accurately express how the person is feeling.
For this reason, developing a wider vocabulary is important to making good empathy statements. Something that is often overlooked is the importance of matching the empathy statement to the person you’re speaking to.
For instance, an elderly person may not say “I’m feeling really depressed” and if you said “You sound really upset” they may say no, but if you said “You’re feeling blue” they may agree. This is similar with denying anxiety but admitting having “nerves.”
Children in particular will often use sentences that are less overt in identifying feelings. “That sucks” or “That sounds really hard/tough” may be acceptable empathy statements when talking to youth. There is an element of intuition and “feeling it out” that develops as you use empathy statements and you will learn over time which ones are more effective for the group you’re speaking to.
Happy Empathy Statements
Sad Empathy Statements
Angry Empathy Statements
- Ticked Off
Hopefully these words give you some examples to help you begin forming your own empathy statements. With practice you will learn to form them unconsciously and weave them naturally into your conversation; this is the sign of someone who communicates really effectively.
Working at a crisis line, it’s important to fill out reports on each call that you take. Call reports provide information valuable for statistics, quality assurance and developing as a volunteer. For instance, if you realize that many calls are coming in between the hours of midnight and 8am, or the most common issues that callers are experiencing are relationship issues, then this allows you to increase the training for your volunteers in this area.
Additionally, outcomes allow you to demonstrate the positive benefits of the calls that you have taken. For instance, you can show that 60% of callers experienced a reduction in their level of distress or 98% of callers looking for information received a successful referral.
Many organizations in the past (and some now) wrote their call reports on paper, which required someone to count them and do calculations by hand. Nowadays, many organizations use software applications to record information. The latest technological innovations involve web-based software that can perform statistical analysis from any browser.
Examples of outcomes for a hotline include:
- Caller was emotionally de-escalated
- Exploration of options
- Immediate crisis diffused/de-escalated
- Increased knowledge of resources
- Reduction of distress or anxiety
- Reduction of isolation or loneliness
- Referral to resources
Hotline outcome measures are also important for funding. For instance, funders may insist that a certain number of callers report outcomes in order to prove the service works. On the other hand, if you’re applying for funding from a new organization, being able to demonstrate those outcomes also helps being able to tell your story.
Other important statistics to collect include:
- The number of calls you receive
- Caller demographics (age, gender, etc.)
- Caller issues (addictions, bullying, abuse, mental health issues, relationship issues, etc.)
- Number of callers who received counselling (in a situation where your hotline provides counselling rather than active listening)
- Number of callers who took the advice they were given
And so on. You will need to work with your funder, or your local community to develop outcomes that accurately measure the outcomes you need to determine. One way to coordinate the collection and analysis of outcome measures is using online helpline management software like iCarol.
The Importance of Stories
While numbers are useful ways of showing that you’ve achieved changes in your visitors (e.g. 45% of our visitors with loneliness experienced reduced isolation by the end of their call), often it’s the qualitative stories that really tug at your funder’s hearts and help you develop relationships.
These stories can also be used to help your volunteers realize the importance of the work you’re doing. Sometimes we can get complacent when a large majority of our callers are lonely or depressed and seem to be that way constantly.
Of course we realize that we can’t fix a caller’s problem (nor is it our job to), but the lack of “movement” can make us feel like we’re not really making a difference. For that reason, being able to recount stories where your volunteers really made a difference in people’s lives (perhaps in a newsletter) can help energize them and remind them of the wonderful work your volunteers do on your hotlines and helplines every single day.