Empathy Statements in Helpline Work

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

  • Pleased
  • Comfortable
  • Confident
  • Enthusiastic
  • Cheerful
  • Ecstastic
  • Energetic

Sad Empathy Statements

  • Blue
  • Depressed
  • Unhappy
  • Somber
  • Discouraged
  • Disappointed
  • Hopeless
  • Low

Angry Empathy Statements

  • Irritated
  • Furious
  • Annoyed
  • Boiling
  • Fuming
  • Mad
  • Frustrated
  • Bothered
  • 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.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Empathy Statements in Helpline Work," retrieved on December 2, 2022 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/empathy-statements-in-helpline-work/.

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