Do you know what empathy is and do you know how to show empathy? There is something slightly amiss in the world today. If we look at business, life, and especially on social media, there seems to be a lack of empathy being demonstrated in many sectors.
Google the word “empathy” and you get the simplified definition of “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes empathy as: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.”
A 2014 Time Magazine article, “5 Ways to Be More Empathetic,” by Roman Krznaric, stated, “The US is facing a boom in digital abuse: over 70% of adults have experienced online harassment and trolling. Studies show a long-term decline in empathy levels amongst college students of nearly 50% in the past three decades. Other research reveals that the wealthier you are, the less empathic you are likely to be—a growing concern as inequality is widening. And, disturbingly, senior executives are four times more likely to resemble psychopaths who are devoid of empathy than the average worker.”
I couldn’t agree more. The lack of empathy seems to keep growing in various branches of business and life (and did I mention social media). Recent announcements by small businesses to large corporations have fallen short of including demonstrations of empathy for those who have been impacted the hardest by their decisions.
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Following are the six levels I believe are the foundational principles in showing empathy in business, life, and social media.
- Don’t think about your own viewpoint. If you come to a discussion or a decision-making process holding onto your viewpoint with an iron fist, then any hopes of demonstrating empathy is lost. Putting aside your viewpoint and allowing yourself to be open leads to a better understanding of another’s viewpoint, hopes, fears, aspirations, challenges, and so much more.
- Listen and connect to the other person’s message. Empathic listening is a true art. This is not the type of listening where you are only trying to gain information or listening to analyze a situation. Empathic listening requires an understanding of the feelings and emotions of what is being said. This is much easier to accomplish if you have set aside your viewpoint on the situation. It’s putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand why those expressed feelings and emotions exist.
- Don’t judge or critique. This is important. After empathically listening to the other person, what you communicate next should not be judgement or criticism for that person’s position. If you communicate in this manner, in most cases it will cause the person to either shut down, become angry, upset, or frustrated. Remember, each person is a singularly unique individual. If your opinion is vastly different from the other person, take a few moments. Collect your thoughts, breathe, and move on to step four.
- Validate or recognize the other person’s perspective. The best way to communicate after empathically listening to the other person is to provide validation or recognition. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the person. More than likely, what the person is wanting to hear is that you listened. Really listened. Validation or recognition uses wording such as, “I understand what you are saying…” or “I can see your perspective…” or “I understand how you feel…” Then finish with a “because” statement, which indicates in your own words what you heard. “I understand what you are saying because…” or “I can see your perspective because…” or “I understand how you feel because…”
- Ask the other person what she or he wants to happen. The goal when showing empathy is to ultimately help the other person in some way. The help could be as simple as needing someone to listen. Then need for help could be for something much larger. However, you won’t know what help looks like unless you ask. In the back of the person’s mind, the thought is, “If this was different, or this was different, I would feel different.” So, ask, “How would this be different for you if what you wanted were to happen?” or “What do you need?” or “How can I help?”
- Ask yourself if there is a way you can help. The last level of empathy is asking yourself this pertinent question. This isn’t saying you need to always be a yes person. You must change policies, or you must agree completely with the other person. Help can come in many forms such as, mentoring, networking, training, providing references, refunds for customers, extra help, more time for family, and so much more. Many times, we don’t realize how much we can help another person simply by giving a word of encouragement and that’s all that is needed from us.
By following these six levels of empathy our communications, and relationships with each other, would vastly change for the better. It’s much easier to work out differences and challenges in business, life, and yes, social media, when we learn to understand each other.