Since I met my husband (flashback to Boston 1994!), he has consistently reminded me to put myself in others’ shoes so I could truly understand their points of view. When I was younger, this was hard for me, to say the least. Growing up, I had a clear set of rules about what was “right” and what was “wrong.” This rigid worldview left me struggling to see the unique perspectives of others and made it hard for me to connect with people.
I am glad that I listened to my hubby’s repeated encouragement, because now I am happy to say I have recovered from my nonempathetic view of the world. It took time (probably a decade or so), but now I consider myself a naturally empathetic person. I am not saying that I am perfect, but empathy has become a natural part of the way I approach life. I always try to see things through others’ eyes. This practice has allowed me to form better relationships and to become a more fulfilled and well-rounded individual.
Not only is empathy an important part of personal relationships, but it’s also important in the professional world. Whether you’re dealing with clients or colleagues, trying to understand their perspectives can help resolve arguments amicably, uncover new ideas and enhance creative work. Here are some tips that have helped me in my journey toward empathy.
- Always listen (and don’t interrupt!). Before you dive in and offer your point of view, allow the other person to make their point in its entirety. While they are telling you their viewpoint, let them get their story out without interruption. If you interrupt them, that usually means that you are focusing on what you think, rather listening to what they are actually saying to you. By listening to the full story first, you will respond in a way that actually makes sense and takes both sides into consideration, and it will show the other person that you value their input and experiences.
- Ask a lot of questions. After listening (and not interrupting!), if you don’t completely comprehend where someone is coming from, ask them questions that will help you understand their point of view better. Gaining perspective is key here. Sometimes just asking simple questions and hearing the answers can help you and the other person empathize with each other, which is an important building block for any successful relationship.
- Don’t get (or sound) frustrated. This is a big one. You may think that it is enough to always listen and ask questions to clarify, but if you become frustrated, you will only succeed at shutting down the other person. If this happens, you are closing the door to hearing why someone else feels the way that they do, and their responses to you may not be as honest. If your conversation becomes heated, it’s OK to take a break and revisit it when you’ve calmed down.
- Remain open-minded. Instead of worrying about constantly being right, do your best to remain open-minded. Try to remove any preconceived biases. Thinking like this will enable you to see the situation for what it is, not what it may be.
If you consistently work these tips into your everyday life, it will become second nature to you, just like it has for me. With time and effort, you’ll be well on your way to forming strong personal and professional connections.
Has practicing empathy helped you at work? Let us know in the comments below.