Empathy has the power to transform your relationships. That’s because it meets the critical human need of personal affirmation. After physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated and to be appreciated. So when you listen with empathy, you are giving that person psychological affirmation of their value as a person.
5 easy steps to empathy
- LISTEN – Practise listening without interrupting or judging. Try simple things such as waiting until others fully express their points of view before offering your own (hard to do at first!). Try it the very next time you have a conversation with someone. Note the result or impact.
- SLOW DOWN – Build in reflection time and mindfulness into your day as much as you can. If you are constantly rushing from one stimulus to the other, you are far less likely to be empathetic to others. Explore mindfulness. If nothing else, just try being still and silent for a short time and breathe deeply. This can be done while waiting for a train, instead of automatically pulling out your smartphone.
- UNDERSTAND – If there is someone in your life with whom you have difficulty communicating, consciously try and identify what emotions they may be experiencing when interacting with you. Explore the possibilities without assuming that what you identify is necessarily true. Write down a list of questions for when you next see this person. What sort of questions would you ask now that could help increase your understanding and create a better conversation or outcome?
- READ FACES – This is something we probably don’t ever consciously focus on. But try it. Really pay attention to facial expression and body language the next time you are in a meeting or discussion. What is happening? How sensitive are you to non-verbal cues? Look at someone’s face for that very first initial response, which is so hard to disguise!
- BE OUTCOMES-FOCUSED! So often we focus on outcomes but in the wrong way because we don’t focus on the behaviour required to reach that outcome. For example, let’s say my outcome is to have an enjoyable evening with my husband at the theatre. Well, that actually starts with how we interact with each other within minutes of meeting up after work. If my mood is negative or reactive, it will definitely result in defensive or irrational behaviour of sorts on my part, which will impact the whole evening. Another way is to actually change the desired outcome to focus instead on the other person. My desired outcome, then, is for my husband to have a wonderful and enjoyable evening. Just by stating that and writing it down, I am more likely to engage in behaviour that will lead to this positive outcome.