Do You Want to Make a Positive Connection? Avoid This Phrase

Driving empathy leads to deeper connections in business and in life

Do you want to make a positive connection with someone in business or in life? Avoid the commonly saying these two words: At least.

“At least” is a phrase often used in an attempt to empathize, yet it has the opposite effect. When you use this phrase in response to someone sharing a difficult experience, you minimize the importance of their feelings. In reality, the statement “at least” is a shaming phrase.

For example, I recently had a drowning experience and a very well intending receiver of my traumatic story responded with: “Well, at least, you didn't die.” This statement, along with any other “at least” statement evokes a sense of shame in the other person as if to say "hey it's not that big of a deal," rather than validating their experience. This undermines the senders experience. Watch out for this disconnecting phrase in future dialogue if your desire is to deepen connection. 

The phrase “at least” is also used as a diversion technique that takes the attention off the original sender of message and flips it onto the receiver. For example, after a sender shares a message of how her child didn’t get into a college that she had her heart set on and how sad she was for her the receiver responds with: “Well, at least she gets to go to college, I never had the opportunity to go to college” and launches into her own life drama.

There are four phases to effective communication based on empathy and validation instead of one-upping, comparison and narcissistic dialogue.

  • Identify a specific time when you have flipped a conversation into your own story.
  • When you are in dialogue with another person, observe how aware you are of your ability to step into the other person’s shoes and see things from their perspective.
  • Watch the stress go down in your conversations as you expand your ability to sum up what the other person is saying, make a statement of validation and empathy and release.
  • Identify the last time you said: “At least”

I thought in my first marriage that my spouse was supposed to meet all my needs and rescue me from many of my own internal insecurities, fears and self-doubts. Nope, not if you want to create a conscious, meaningful relationships that can withstand the storms of life.

Take Action

  • Observe the times you say the phrase “at least” in conversations this week. Pause and use your words to create statements of empathy instead of watering down their experience. Validate the sender’s experience: “Wow, I can see how you would feel sad and frustrated in that situation, that makes sense to me.”
  • Be conscious of your role as a receiver in a conversation. The receiver’s role is to listen, validate and empathize. Too often our ego will steal the sender’s role as you dominate and bully the original sender by one-upping the original sender.
  • Stay in your lane as the receiver when another person approaches you as the sender of information. Respect them as you desire to be respected. Just because you express that you understand the other person’s perspective does not mean you have to agree with it.

Relationship Tip: Instead of "one-upping" in your conversations practice validation and empathy.

Categories: Human Resources