Let’s see if we can sharpen your empathy skills in 4 minutes or less.
Empathy, simply put, is expressing your understanding of how another person feels, leaving them feeling understood and heard. This is easy to do when you share their concern or care about their issue. It’s not so easy when you don’t care.
Has someone ever told you about a problem or brought you a complaint that mattered a lot to them and didn’t matter to you at all?
Perhaps you found yourself thinking “this isn’t a real problem” or “I can’t believe they are worried about something like this”.
Perhaps you don’t care about their opinion because their facts are completely wrong. Let’s roll with that example.
Suppose you and I work together and you don’t like working with me. This dislike has built up to a point where you are going to tell me about it. You say “Henry, I don’t like working with you because your hair is too long and I feel like you are always brushing it during our meetings.”
These facts are obviously wrong and if I had to go to court to argue against them, it wouldn’t take me long to persuade the jury and win the case. But what happens to our relationship if focusing on the facts is all I do? If your frustration energy was high when our interaction started, and all I do is argue the facts, it will most likely increase your negative charge, leave you even more frustrated, and permanently damage our relationship. So, how to fix this?
• STEP ONE: Put their feelings before their facts. Try to remember a time when you didn’t want to work with someone and remember how that felt. Do that right now. You are probably naming feelings like “frustrating”, “unmotivating” or even “de-energizing”. If you can remember your feelings, you are halfway to creating a meaningful human connection with this person. Now all you have to do is express your understanding by saying something like:
“It sounds like working with me feels frustrating and you really don’t want to do it anymore. I too have felt the same way about a co-worker, and I don’t want you to have that experience with me.”
• Now, for STEP TWO: check in with the person to see if they now feel understood.
If they nod, or say “Yes, that’s what I meant”, they are feeling de-energized, more objective, and relieved that you understand them. Now you’re both ready to discuss the facts.
• STEP THREE: When approaching the facts do what we call “using curiosity in lieu of judgement”. Instead of saying “You’re wrong because look, I’m bald” say “What led you to the opinion you just presented to me? I want to hear more about your perspective.” If your relationship is strong enough for some humor, you might ask “Really? Tell me, what color is my hair?”
For stronger relationships, dealing with feelings before facts will get you deeper, more rewarding and more productive relationships. It will also promote better business results.