The last few weeks and months have left me, next to feeling slightly lost for words, with an even deeper conviction that empathy is a key skill for humans: in life, in leadership, and in achieving peace with one another.
Only with empathy and compassion for another can we truly understand each other, bridge the gap between us and collaborate freely and successfully.
Particularly in the today’s work environments, where fast-paced change, flexibility and complexity are more the norm than the exception, feelings of insecurity and the fear of being left behind can come up and are not at all uncommon.
In order to be able to understand and address the needs of your team members, colleagues, people around you, empathy is a key.
There are many ways to build on, strengthen and hone your empathic skills. One great tool for that is active listening, which I am looking at with you today.
Maybe you have heard the quote by Steven Covey:
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
Active listening helps you to give your conversation partner time, space and, most importantly, your attention, in order to be able to undertake their motivation and needs.
Being able to understand other’s needs and motivation is a key part of empathy.
Things you can do to develop your active listening skills:
- Focus your attention on the person you are listening to. Be in the moment and fully concentrate on what your conversation partner is doing and saying.
- I know it can be hard to focus like this with all the things going in busy lives, and I promise you, focusing here will save you time in the long run and shorten conversations by making sure you can understand fully.
- Show your engagement by using positive body language: facing your conversation partner, having an open relaxed posture, nodding; and what I like to call social grunting: uhuhs, mmmhhhmms, …
- Try to withhold judgement. This can be a tricky thing to do, as our brains are very used to categorizing and judging at lightning speed.
- Being able to make these judgements is helpful when noticing a car barreling towards you, to get out of the way, but not so helpful in building open, trusting communication. However the more practice you get at stopping that knee-jerk judgement, the easier it will get for your brain and you.
- Paraphrase what you have understood. Try not to use the same words as the other person used and focus on letting them know your understanding of the issue.
- This also serves as a great cross-check in case there has been a misunderstanding. This step also shows you are paying attention and that is matters to you to understand. For example, use phrases like: I just want to make sure I have understood…..; Making sure we are on the same page, my understanding is ….
- If the other person has verbalized how they feel, validate that feeling.
- For example: I can see this has made you angry.
- If they have not, name the feeling you have perceived in your partner by asking them if that is what they are feeling.
- For example: If I was in that situation I would find it frustrating…
I hope you find this useful. I will be continuing to look at ways to build your empathy and empathetic skills in coming articles. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Always looking forward to hearing from you!