Many leaders today indicate that one of their top developmental priorities is to improve communication and engagement. At the heart of successful communication and engagement is empathy, your competitive advantage. Often touted as an “innate ability” to see things through the eyes of another, successful executive coaches would argue otherwise claiming proven success in working with clients to develop this leadership competency. It is however, fully acknowledged that for some individuals, particularly those with autism and individuals with conditions such as that of a psychopath, empathy is hard-wired in the brain and cannot be developed.
Having empathy in written communication provides meaningful insights to ensure the “message sent” is perceived as was intended. In face to face communications, demonstrating empathy is most apparent in how we listen first and then respond. Identifying what is most important to the other person. Empathy often confused with sympathy, is not about feeling sorry for or agreeing with someone. Empathy enables a person to deliver a message whether in written form or face to face knowing that you will get maximum effect because it was written or formulated with the other person’s perspective in mind.
Like any other learned skill, developing empathy requires awareness, attention, and focused commitment that leads to sustainable change. The beauty of this approach to improved communication is that it is relevant for all levels within an organization. From classrooms to boardrooms to relationships in our personal lives, empathy is a valuable tool to have in your toolbox. With a significant increase in today’s global interactions through virtual teams and various platforms such as social media, developing this competitive advantage is key for those who want to succeed in building meaningful relationships.
While the degree to which empathy can be developed may vary from person to person, working with an executive coach and using assessment tools to measure and then develop empathy is a great solution for achieving long term results. There are however, a few simple strategies that you can apply today to test your awareness, place your attention, and demonstrate your focused commitment toward an enhanced level of empathy.
- Awareness – Consult someone you trust implicitly to tell you the truth. Explain to them that you are trying to assess your empathetic approach and invite them to play along. Engage in a conversation about something meaningful for 5 minutes. Then write down the 5 key points that you “heard” as being most important to the other person. Read it back to them and ask them to score you using a scale of 1-10. With 1 being lowest in terms of your perception of their view and 10 being highest.
- Attention – Find a quiet place that you are able to do some reflective thinking. Now take a close look at the scaling responses received from the previous exercise. Determine what you have learned from them, both individually and collectively. Ask yourself questions such as: Where might you place your attention so that it has a greater impact on your intention? What might you have done differently or thought of differently to have a more empathetic approach? What skills and abilities do you currently have that might help you with being more empathetic? What did you notice about their facial expressions? Did their voice change frequencies or pitch at all when using certain words? What might you have noticed about their body language when speaking? What might you pay closer attention to the next time you are conversing with someone in person? For written communication, ask yourself: What word or words jump out at you as being repetitive? Why might this message have been framed this way? If I were the writer rather than the receiver, what would I be trying to achieve with this message?
- Commitment – Like all change, we need to commit to taking the first step. Make a date with yourself to try out what you’ve learned from this exercise. Take it seriously. Put it in your calendar. Find someone else whom you trust and try this same exercise out on them. Compare your results and continuously look for ways to improve. Question your assumptions and seek feedback from others. If the commitment is there, results will follow.
I’m sure we have all been in situations whereby someone could have benefitted from having used a more empathetic approach. Perhaps, that person was me or you. Empathy is often associated with having good listening skills because we are hearing not only the words that are spoken, but the ones in between too. The ones which are most important to the other person. Put your feet in someone else’s shoes and walk around a bit. Notice a new perspective?
Best wishes for a more empathetic approach! Glo
(C) 2012 – True Bliss Coach Gloria Higdon