As mentioned in my last blog, here are several skills you can start implementing in any environment to grow in your ability to empathize.
- Adopt the golden rule: As simple as it sounds, the notion “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” goes against our natural egocentric tendency. But if we start to filter all our actions through this lens, it will make empathizing that much more natural. Would you want to be asked how you are feeling? Would you want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Would you want to be greeted with a smile? Would you want to be know if someone was harboring anger or bitterness towards you? Would you want someone to do something nice or helpful without being asked?
- Actively listen: This involves eye contact, being distraction-free (i.e. put the phone down), attention to body language, providing subtle and encouraging feedback, asking for clarification and reflecting back what was said.
- Ask questions: We all know what assuming does, right? Just like snowflakes no two people are exactly the same and therefore no two people think the same. Prejudging someone’s motives or feelings based on your agenda or experience is fuel for miscommunication and frustration. In asking questions, also be willing to hear and accept the answer.
- Validate: There is nothing worse then stepping out in vulnerability and being met with indifference. If someone is sharing their heart or if you are trying to understand someone else’s point of view or experience, a simple act of affirmation that you heard and desire to understand can make all the difference. Something as simple as “That must be tough….thanks for sharing…What I hear you saying…”For all you “fixers” out there – here is the easiest tool I can suggest!
- Have an open mind: You many have heard, don’t speak about politics and religion in mixed company. Why not? Most likely because it becomes a conversation about who is right versus who is understood. Creating a safe space for others to share what they feel, believe and desire without being “corrected” is crucial for both personal and relational growth. Uniqueness is to be embraced. Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you?