Ann Turnbull
Janice Fialka
2015 Inclusion Institute
Chapel Hill, NC
May 13, 2015
Reflection: Your Own Positive Experiences
• Think of a situation in which you or someone in your
family faced a challenging situation and you dealt with a
practitioner who you consider to be especially
o What did the practitioner do that you perceived to be
especially empathetic?
o How did you feel in response to the practitioner’s
Reflection: Your Own Negative Experiences
• Think of another situation in which you also had a
challenging situation and dealt with a practitioner who
was not empathetic at all.
o What did the practitioner do that you perceived to
totally lack empathy?
o How did you feel in response to the practitioner’s
lack of empathy?
What is communication?
• Communication is giving or exchanging information,
signals, or messages by talking, using gestures, writing,
and/or using technology.
What is Empathy?
• Taking the perspective of another by seeing situations
from their point of view
• Being non-judgmental
• Tuning into and understanding another’s feelings
• Communicating that you understand and care
Why is Empathetic Communication
so Important?
• It leads to trusting partnerships.
o communication + empathy  empathetic communication =
trusting partnerships
• “The feeling of being deeply understood reinforces a sense of
connectedness between the practitioner and . . . family… The
aim is for . . . the family to feel heard, and ultimately, to be
respected for his/her unique perspective and past experiences.”
(Geller, 2012, p. 208)
Overview of Early Years Empathetic
Communication Module
Session 1: Introduction
• Definitions
• Importance of empathetic communication
• Reflection of personal experiences with empathetic
Session 2: Being Present
• Clearing your mind of distractions
• Being silent
• Making eye contact
• Communicating through body language
Session 3: Taking Another’s
• Reflecting on origins, life experiences, and values
• Being curious
• Affirming strengths
• Walking a mile in others’ shoes
Session 4: Empathetic Listening
• Acknowledging
• Paraphrasing
• Questioning
• Summarizing
• Tracking the topic
Session 5: Acknowledging Feelings
Five strategies for Acknowledging Feelings
Noticing and naming the feeling: “There’s a
word for that.”
Responding to feelings: “Now I named it, what
do I say?”
Validating feelings: “Your feelings make sense.”
Expressing care: “I care about you.”
Handling strong emotions: “It’s hard, but we can
get through this.”
Session 6: Digital Communication
• Using email
• Texting
• Using Facebook
• Using video conferencing
Introduction to Session 3 on Taking
Another’s Perspective
Reflection: Family Focus
• All of us allow our buttons to be pushed from time to
time by others, and sometimes this happens on a
rather regular basis with some people in our personal
and professional lives. Think of a family with whom
you are interacting now or with whom you interacted in
the past where “button pushing” has occurred for you.
o Briefly describe what was going on that resulted in
you having “pushed buttons.”
Family Scenario #1
• See workshop, p. 2
Strategy #1: Engaging in SelfReflection on Origins, Life
Experiences, and Values
Your Origins
• Your origins are your roots – the family and surroundings
you were born into and grew up with through adolescence.
You cannot change your origins. Although they do not
determine who you will become, they are foundations to
shaping your life experiences, forming your values, and
influencing your reactions to early intervention
Self-Reflection Activity: Origins
• How have your origins influenced your opinions about
Kim’s childcare decision?
• How have your origins influenced your opinions about
your focus family?
Your Life Experiences
• Your life experiences are the opportunities and episodes
that have characterized your life since adolescence.
Given that life experiences have influenced who you are
and how you see the world, you can gain insight about
your values by reflecting on your life experiences.
Self-Reflection Activity: Life Experiences
• How have your life experiences influenced your opinions
about Kim’s childcare decision?
• How have your life experiences influenced your opinions
about your focus family?
Your Values
• Your values are the principles that guide your life. The
next step in self-reflection is to examine your values
and consider how they have been formed by your
origins and life experiences. Just as origins and life
experiences differ greatly among families in early
intervention, so do values.
Self-Reflection Activity: Values
• How have your values influenced your opinions about
Kim’s childcare situation?
• How have your values influenced your opinions about
your focus family?
Strategy #2: Being Curious
Use Open-Ended Questions
• Description
o Questions that typically begin with who, what,
when, where, and why; they cannot be answered
in only a few words.
• Purpose
o Encourage partners to give more detail and talk
more in response.
Use Open-Ended Questions
• Rationale
o Conveys respect for unique perspectives
o Communicates interest
o Gives control to other person
• Childcare is such a challenge for all families and can
be even more so for children with special needs.
What makes Bernice the right babysitter for Sophie?
• What pleases you most about your childcare
arrangement with Bernice?
• Recognizing how very much you like your childcare
arrangement with Bernice, what might you be
interested in changing that would make it even better?
Family Scenario #2
• See workshop, p. X
Strategy #3: Walking a Mile
in Others’ Shoes
Shoes Test
• As you take the shoes test with Kim, your task is to experience
the childcare situation from her perspective rather than your
o In what way might Kim’s origins, life experiences, and values
influence her perspective about the childcare situation?
o What does Kim most value about Sophie’s quality of life?
o If you and Kim swapped origins, life experiences, and values
(with you living her life and Kim living your life), can you see
yourself making a decision similar to Kim’s?
• Why does Kim feel satisfied with her Bernice?
• Kim recognizes Sophie as a very loveable child and gives
priority to unconditional relationships in which people will love
Sophie for who she is, developmental delays and all.
• Kim values dependability and predictability. She has chosen a
childcare arrangement that is likely to be stable and to prevent
the disaster of suddenly having Sophie “expelled” from childcare
with no other options available.
• Kim recognizes the value of support for herself. She knows that
she needs “chosen family” as her own reliable ally.
• At the conclusion of Scenario #1
o What are your feelings and next steps?
o Now, standing in Kim’s shoes, what would be her
feelings and next steps?
• At the conclusion of Scenario #2
o What are your feelings and next steps?
o Now, standing in Kim’s shoes, what would be her
feelings and next steps?
Strategy #4: Affirming Strengths
(Helps avoid judgmentalness)
Possible Strengths
• Kim is committed to ensuring that Sophie has unconditional
love. She recognizes that unconditional love can contribute
to Sophie’s positive self-esteem.
• Kim is very proactive. Rather than waiting for a crisis to
happen, she wants to be preventative in terms of avoiding
• Kim knows that with the support of friends she will not just
survive, she’ll prevail.
Affirming Strengths
• “I can see the sparkle in Bernice’s eyes when she interacts
with Sophie. She obviously loves her very much.”
• “I admire the way you have created a support system you
can count on through good times and bad.”
• “How wonderful that you and Sophie will be with Bernice
and her family for Thanksgiving dinner. All of you truly are
a family.”
Affirming Strengths
• Affirming strengths requires specific statements.
• Affirming strengths does not imply agreement with a
Strategy #5: Communicating
about Awkward Situations
Role Playing with Scripts
Bottom Line
• You came prepared to talk about smoking and wisely
anticipated that a solution was not the primary focus
of this conversation. The main objective was to begin
a conversation, to lay the foundation of possible
future conversations, and to inform Kim that there
are issues of health she might want to explore with
Bernice. You also validated several times that you
understood how important Bernice is to Kim.
Tips: Addressing Awkward Situations
• Notice and acknowledge when you have concerns or
disagreements with decisions that families make. Be
aware of any strong, negative, or gut-reactions to family's
choices. Just notice it.
• Take your worries or concerns back to the office to
discuss with colleagues or your supervisor. Don't act on
your gut reactions right away; just pay attention to them.
• Reflect on your discomfort or worry. Seek the input of
seasoned colleagues or your supervisor.
Tips: Addressing Awkward Situations
• Focus on building trust with the family over several visits.
Avoid rushing into a discussion that feels awkward or
tender. Employ other strategies discussed in the Empathic
Communication Session, such as: Be curious. Affirm
strengths. Build rapport. Listen. Use open-ended questions.
• In beginning the conversation with the family, use words
that invite further thought about the issue. ("I am wondering
if you might be okay talking about this for a moment." I
wanted to think about . . . Would that be okay with you?")
Avoid lecturing or telling families what they "should" do.
Tips: Addressing Awkward Situations
• Acknowledge that the conversation feels a bit awkward.
• Remind yourself that the initial conversation may not result
in an immediate change or agreement with your
suggestions or perspective. People often need time to
consider a different perspective. They also may need time
to trust that they will not be criticized or harshly judged.
• Remind families that differences in opinion will not interfere
with your commitment to working with them.
Tips: Addressing Awkward Situations
• Follow-up in the next visit or two, for example: "I know I
brought up the issue of smoking during our last visit. If that
wasn't helpful, I hope you will let me know. I want to keep
the doors of communication open between us. That's
important to me. "
• Remind yourself that "reality is always bigger than my
individual perspective." (Stein-Rubin & Fabus, 2012, p. 49)

Empathetic Communication