Design Thinking

How To Use Empathy Effectively in Your Next Conversation

Most people think they know what empathy means and how to do it. However, the behaviours we often see in the workplace suggest the opposite. Have you experienced any of these?

-Being interrupted while you’re talking

-People looking at their phone while you’re sharing your heart with them

-Someone responding with, “Well at least …”

-The other person immediately making the situation about themself

-People making assumptions about what they think you need or want

-They try to fix you or the problem instead of listening to what you need

Yes.... this resonates. And it feels pretty demotivating when it happens to us. With sudden horror I wonder … might we be doing that too? It's possible.

Our busy minds can often interfere with us showing up with the open heart and empty hands needed for others to feel seen and heard.  And you know how”blech” that feels when you’re on the receiving end of that distraction.

On the flipside, think about a time when you felt understood. Then imagine a future situation where your team member or leader is truly listening to you and supporting what you have to say.  What does that feel like?  How much more motivated and engaged would you feel? Before we figure out how to do this more often, let's think about what empathy really means.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and connect with others on a deeper level, by putting ourselves in someone else's shoes and seeing things from their perspective.

It allows us to communicate effectively, build stronger relationships, and solve problems collaboratively. Empathy also helps us to be more compassionate and understanding towards others, which can lead to a more harmonious and supportive society overall.  And it is a critical skill for human-centred design and leadership.

4 Tips for Developing Empathy

  1. Practice Active Listening: When someone is talking to you, give them your full attention. Listen not just to the words they're saying, but to the emotions and feelings behind them. Show that you're listening by nodding, making eye contact, and asking gentle prodding questions that show that you are in the conversation with them. That might sound like, “Feel free to tell me more about that if that’s helpful to you - I am here.” or “How can I support you best during this conversation?”  Instead of jumping to solutions, find out what they need in that moment. This tip often saves not only work relationships, but also marriages!
  2. Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Try to imagine what it would be like to be the other person. What are their motivations, fears, and desires? By understanding where they're coming from, you can better understand their perspective.  If you don’t know, don’t make assumptions. Try asking open-ended questions to understand their perspective, like, “What’s the biggest hurdle for you to achieve your goal?” or simply, “How are you feeling about that?”  Your invitation for them to share emotion words can be such a relief and an indication that it is a safe place to do so.
  3. Be Open and Non-Judgmental: Avoid judging or criticizing them, and instead try to understand their point of view. Remember, empathy is about understanding and connecting with others, not about agreeing with them. Just hold the safe space with caring and open body language that lets them know it's ok to share this with you. And here's to you for making that space! If you are never recognized by anyone else for it - let me recognize you now - I am grateful that you are doing this. With each act of kindness you are making the world a better place. Annnnnnnd..... you may also end up discovering something that is critical to change that saves your organization or improves your products and services!
  4. Use the Acknowledge Skill: If you’ve ever experienced my coaching or workshops you’ve heard me talk about this.  After someone shares something that is heartfelt, I acknowledge them for sharing.  This may sound like, “Thank you for sharing that with me. If it’d be helpful to share more, I am here.”  Or you could say,“That does sound (insert the emotion word they used here, i.e. frustrating, upsetting, exciting, etc.”  It’s important to use their language in order for that person to truly feel understood.  They will likely feel supported and encouraged to either share some more, or might even start to feel their power return and ready to move forward.

In Conclusion

Without empathy we have unhappy, unmotivated people. With empathy we have all the possibilities for engagement, inclusion, valuable information, and results.

Sending you the courage and warmth to try this out and hope you get all kinds of positive results.

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