“You’re being insensitive. Stop telling me I’m wrong and pay attention to how I feel!”
We all make the occasional misstep of unintentionally hurting others’ feelings. However, for some, lacking empathy, or understanding and appreciating the feelings of others, is a defining characteristic. These people are often highly intelligent, data-driven problem-solvers motivated more by logic than the desire to make others feel good. They are among my favorite leaders to coach because even slight changes in being more empathetic can have a profound positive impact on one’s personal and work relationships.
How do you know you lack empathy? One clue is if you often say to others, “you are being ridiculous. What you’re saying doesn’t make sense.” News flash: accessing the logical, rational parts of the brain is nearly impossible when one is stuck emotionally. Instead of trying to force logic or rationale into the mind of a coworker, spouse, or friend who is “being emotional,” try to first acknowledge and validate his/her feelings. This can help the person access the logical part of the brain and have a productive discussion.
Even better, make it a focus of 2020 to become more empathetic. Below is the simplest, most accessible solution I have found to help one demonstrate empathy in the moment and develop into a more empathetic person and leader. This idea came about during a recent coaching conversation with a physician leader who is working to improve his personal brand.
Prior to entering a conversation and throughout the conversation, ask yourself the following question:
How do I want this person to feel based on his/her interaction with me, both in the moment and after the discussion?
This is effective because it puts a pause between your thoughts and words, sets the intention to be aware of and sensitive to the other person’s feelings, and reminds you that your words and actions will impact how the other person will feel. It makes showing empathy a choice.
Once you get skilled at this, you can take it one level deeper and instead ask the following question:
How does the other person want to feel based on his/her interaction with me?
The second question touches the core of where the other person is coming from. It gets to the heart of empathy because it increases the ability to understand and be sensitive to others’ feelings, which is the very definition of empathy.
Research shows that those who practice empathy have better personal and work relationships. The good news is that everybody has the ability to be empathetic.