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I know how you feel.” “Trust me, I get it.” I understand what you are feeling.” 

But, do you really? Confident but wrong beliefs about the emotion felt or expressed by others may be damaging to relationships. 

Every day we talk to dozens of people, we walk down the street and see hundreds of facial expressions in other people. The expression you see might cause you to react in a certain way, depending on how you interpret them. But do you interpret other people’s facial expressions correctly? To what extent do you trust your own judgment? 

A team from the University of Geneva studied how confident we are in our ability to interpret other people’s emotions. Additionally, they looked at what areas of the brain are activated in this process. Their results showed that our emotional interpretation stems directly from the experiences stored in our memory. However, these experiences sometimes confuse us. In other words, the past is not a perfect predictor of the future.


The past is not a perfect predictor of the future. 


When we talk about the ability to Understand Emotions, we are looking at one’s ability to accurately predict how people might emotionally react based on a set of circumstances. In addition, can you understand why someone might feel the way they feel and are you able to use emotional vocabulary?



Insights to Understanding Others…


  • Pick up emotional cues, often from body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal elements of communication. 
  • Listen well to what people are saying, actively checking your understanding. Tune into the person you are listening to and seek to understand what they are saying instead of just hearing the words they are speaking. Clarify their message if needed or repeat it back to them as a question. Doing this will help you listen better and make the other person feel valued and genuinely heard. 
  • Show sensitivity towards others, and understand their perspectives. Be careful not to offend someone by saying or doing the wrong thing, and be aware that not everyone has the same point of view. If you struggle with the balance between truth, honesty, and politeness, you may find these pages on Truthfulness and Balancing Honesty and Politeness helpful.
  • Help other people appropriately, based on your understanding of their needs and emotions. In our current world, many conversations (especially about emotions) take place through a screen. Check out one of my previous blogs on High Stake Conversations over virtual platforms to help navigate the world of conversations online. 


“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway.


“Listen to understand, not to respond.”

-Susan Steinbrecher.


Developing empathy, and particularly the skill of understanding others, is not just crucial to your interpersonal relationships. It can also have a much broader impact. For example, in the US, doctors who listen carefully to their patients are much less likely to be sued. In one study, primary care doctors (the equivalent of general practitioners in the UK) who had never been sued were found to be much better communicators than their peers.

Communication and listening skills can be the difference between a successful career and one that ends poorly. Learning the skills that it takes to be a good listener is the first step in understanding others’ emotions. 

One of my favorite resources when it comes to fine-tuning your listening skills is Sidewalk Talk. They even have an online course to help you become a better listener. 




Balancing Politeness and Honesty: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/polite-vs-honest.html

Truthfulness: https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/truthfulness.html

High Stake Conversations over Virtual Platforms: https://meaningfulalignment.com/high-stakes-conversations-over-virtual-platforms/

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