The ability to demonstrate someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation is how Cambridge English Dictionary defines empathy.
Demonstrating we have listened to and understood another’s perspective is an essential life skill and the key to interpersonal effectiveness.
Recall your emotions when you felt you weren’t listened to: Angry, frustrated, demotivated, to name just a few of the feelings probably experienced. It is therefore surprising that very few of us have had lessons in listening.
A high degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence is required not to push our prejudices and judgements without first understanding a situation.
In his books, Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Why It Can Matter More than IQ and Working With Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman presents five categories of emotional intelligence.
Empathy is not only a core category of emotional intelligence in and of its own right, but it is also an intrinsic component of the other four groups.
So how can this life-enhancing skill be developed? The answer is to use some mantras, simple techniques and practice!
The useful mantras:
Keeping these mantras ‘front of mind’ and engage in active listening.
Use the acronym LAER Listen Acknowledge Explore Respond
Listen: Don’t interrupt or speak over people when they are talking. Use supporting body language.
Acknowledge: Summarise what you have heard, the other persons view and how they feel.
Explore: Ask open questions. Kipling’s quote is well positioned to help: I have six honest serving men they taught me all I knew, their names are what and why and when and how and where and who.
Repeat the process of Listening, Acknowledging and Exploring until you have a complete understanding of the situation from the 3rd parties perspective.
Respond: First ask how can I help or what would you like me to do. The offer advice, your views and opinions in response. Always reflecting- does this need to be said, does this need to be said by me, does this need be said by me now.
Why is this so difficult? Because our ego and self-worth can get so attached to our views. Another view contrary to our own can seem threatening, and an affront to our very identity.
It requires enhanced emotional intelligence to demonstrate empathy. Richard Causton in his book, The Buddha in Daily Life, sums this dilemma up nicely, ‘One characteristic of the truly wise man is that he can recognise the wisdom of others and is more concerned in discovering the truth in any situation than in simply defending his own opinion.’
Demonstrating empathy is not to turn ourselves into a pushover, understanding is not necessarily agreement. We can enter any conversation and dialogue, verbal and written, intending to understand it and suspend or need to necessarily agree or disagree with it. In the end, we can endeavour to agree to disagree agreeably!
Make it a goal to becoming a good listener. Use every conversation to listen, ask questions, and understand. Resist the temptation to offer an opinion. This quest is a life long journey; however, it represents the gristmill of interpersonal effectiveness and mutually beneficial relationships.