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Using Observational Statements to Boost Empathy and Connection

Power of Observational Statements Newsletter
by Dr. Teresa Peterson


In this video newsletter, let’s take five minutes to explore:

  • the power of observational statements
  • four sentence starters to kick off your practice
  • how to use them to boost empathy and connection

Let’s get started!



Hi everyone. Theresa here from Team Sarah Noll Wilson here to share one of our very favorite tools!

We often hear from folks that they’re in conversation or they’re checking in with someone and someone shares something. Maybe it’s really amazing, maybe it isn’t, and they don’t always know how to respond. Or there are folks who have traditionally wanted to jump in and solve things who want to just sit with the situation.

So these are four sentence starters you can use. They’re called observational statements. We think of these as statements that kick off really powerful observations and boost empathy, boost connection, and help your team members be seen: I hear, I see, I sense. I notice. And I’m going to leave these up on the screen for just a minute. If you’re like me and you’re very visual, just take those in. You do not need to use all four of these sentence starters in the same conversation. You can lean into whatever feels right given the situation.

The biggest issue I hear from folks is that they’re worried that if they make an observation statement that if they don’t get it quite right, that will harm the relationship. And I want to assure you that that is almost never the case. And I’m saying almost because I’m a cautious person by nature. But I can tell you I have truthfully never seen damage to relationship come by getting it a little bit wrong. Here’s how it played out for me this week. I was working with a group, someone I didn’t know very well, they were sharing a story about their team, about some changes coming up, how they were managing those personally, how they were leading through those. And I said, I hear some excitement and also some pride.

Did you catch the observation statement? I hear some excitement and also some pride. And he said, excitement for sure, not so much pride, more relief. I said, oh, okay. Say more about that. Right? So he didn’t say, I don’t feel proud. How dare you say, I feel proud. He just said, actually, it’s more like this. Sarah and I often describe this as the fine tuning that you do in an eye exam, right? I thought maybe it was pride. He said, no, it’s relief. Better one than two. Two is the better fit for him. When people feel heard, their brain lights up. I did not say, oh, well, let me give you 17 ideas I have for how you can keep moving forward. I didn’t insert myself into the situation. It was his, he owned it and I was there to kind of bear witness to it, right?

To be another human supporting him and listening into that. How might you use these? And I’ll tell you, they are great at home as well. I will use these with my own family. Whether it’s, I noticed you got really quiet after I asked how band went today. You can make some statements like that. It’s not prodding. If someone isn’t ready, you’re just sharing what you’re seeing. The power of observation statements. I would love to hear a success story. Or even if you stumble a little bit with them and you want to tell a safe person. You know where to find me, theresa@sarahmillwilson.com. But I would really invite you to lean into these statements. One of the ones I go to when I don’t really know what to say. When something, someone is sharing something very hard, something that feels overwhelming, maybe something that lights up part of my brain that’s been through something similar and I’m trying to be present for them without stepping into the opening the folder in my brain of my own story.

I’ll honor it by saying, that sounds really heavy, or I feel the heaviness of that. That’s also helpful when it is a heavy situation and maybe you don’t have the other words to say like, I didn’t. I just reached for that one and it landed. So observation statements. Another favorite way I’ve seen these used, if your team members are sharing a frustration, there’s a project. Resist the urge to step in and take that work over. Resist the urge to sweep in and save the day, right? So leaning into, I see your wheels are spinning on this one. What ideas do you have to move forward? You can leverage it into a coaching moment too.

So again, you know where to find us. We’re here for you. I’d love to hear how these are working for you and how you’re using them. Email me at theresa@sarahnollwilson.com!

To be continued, my friends. Thanks.


Dr. Teresa Peterson
Director of Learning and Development | Website | + posts

Dr. Teresa Peterson is the Director of Learning and Development for Sarah Noll Wilson, Inc. In her daily work, she serves as Sarah’s key content collaborator. Teresa enjoys facilitating, researching, and is passionate about applying best practices for learning to make our experiences meaningful, engaging, and accessible for all types of learners. Teresa holds a Doctorate in Education from the University of Northern Iowa and brings over twenty years of experience teaching, facilitating, and leading to our team. Our clients love Teresa’s grounded energy, depth of thought, and ability to listen deeply.

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