Empathy: What's really going on?

Getting the hang of empathising is a long-burn endeavour...so is it really worth it?

August 3, 2019

On the whole, we tend to invest in doing things that are personally difficult when someone we trust can tell us that it's really worth it. This tendency has the obvious flaw that we have to wait for someone to give us such an insight on a plate before we will even begin to make a special effort. 

And that's just one of the reasons that coaching can take a while to help someone to embed changes in their habits... most of us need someone therefor a while to encourage us to stay with the programme for long enough to grasp more than the obvious benefits. 

In particular, learning to make empathy part of how we do things takes lots of experimentation and practise before most of us can really grasp the bigger point. But then the prizes are substantial.

Here are 5 beneficial things that happen when we empathise with someone. Incidentally, I'm going to be covering the detail about HOW to communicate empathy during the webinar on Friday 23rd August at 09.30BST.

Ok, now here's the listicle... 

  1. In order to focus on the other person's opinion, feelings or predicament effectively we have, for the sake of focus, to park our own position for a few minutes. This is a bit like doing a mini version of I'll sleep on it. Standing back from our point of view helps us to restore perspective.
  2. People notice when we listen without judging, advising or otherwise talking ourselves into their psychological space. Why? Because it is an act of unusual generosity. Few people are prepared to give someone listening time without strings attached.
  3. As we allow ourselves to notice the other person's feelings, to recall what it's like to experience our version of their emotion, described or hinted at, we can often feel the relief that comes with being able to stop struggling to win the fight. What becomes important is not who wins but how you both move on.
  4. I don't think we can truly empathise with someone's resistance to our idea without coming out of the conversation with a different opinion, a new belief or an assumption discarded. Listening to the feelings behind the opposing argument opens our eyes.
  5. Arguments need at least two opponents. Take one away and the room goes silent. When one person involved in a tussle, even a delicate one, decides to take on the role of empathiser, even for a few minutes, the game changes to something more progressive, less energy consuming... and shorter.
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