They say that you should teach what you most need to learn. While I can’t confirm the validity of this statement for others, it certainly rings true for me. Of all the concepts that make up my Lenses of Leadership program, practicing empathy is at the top of my list in terms of what I should be “teaching to learn”. I suspect that I’m not alone in my pursuit of flexing this empathic muscle.
Why is it so challenging at times to demonstrate empathy in certain relationships? Before I answer this question, I invite you to consider a unique definition of the word empathy – a process of feeling with someone, not just for someone. Feeling for someone is known as sympathy, which requires a much smaller emotional investment. In order to feel with someone, you must be willing to put aside your own lens (how you see yourself and the world) and attempt to see life through another person’s eyes. As you know, this can be a difficult process because it’s easy to assume that our perception is the RIGHT perception. The end result of this narrow view is that we tend to judge or make assumptions about how someone else should think or feel. Consider the following statement.
One of the most fundamental desires of every human being is to be understood.
Notice that it doesn’t say human beings desire for people to fix them, or tell them what they should think, feel, or do? Personally, I sometimes have a tendency to assume the Superman role when listening to others. Therefore, my caring heart compels me to swoop in and attempt to solve everyone’s problems right away. Because of this Superman mentality, I’m sometimes quick to share advice and suggest various strategies that might help someone in whatever challenge they are facing. While my heart is always in the right place, if I haven’t taken the time to understand the person I’m working with, my advice often falls on deaf ears. Why? Because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Are you interested in practicing the skill of empathy? If so, I have one small suggestion that will make a tremendous difference in your relationships. The next time you have a conversation with someone, I want you to make a conscious effort to listen to the person speaking. I’m not just talking about hearing the words that come out of their mouth. True listening requires that you listen with your heart as well. Try to feel with them by imagining what they might be experiencing. It’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with them, but rather an attempt to understand them. If you can do this, you will create a bridge of trust that will lead to much more effective communication in the future.
Take it from me, you DON’T need to have all of the answers. The diagnosis is much more important than the prescription.
Please enjoy the following animated video, narrated by Brene Brown, which further illustrates the power of empathy.