Not only does empathy help forge personal bonds, it also guides us in asking the right questions, brings teams together, and helps us become better leaders. Luckily, empathy is learned, and we can get better at it by turning these four strategies into habits:
- Walk in their shoes. Seeing a situation from another’s point of view helps us understand a person’s reasoning, motivations, and actions. By imagining ourselves in the situation of another, we’re better able to predict feelings, refrain from snap judgments, and navigate social situations gracefully.
- Just ask. When unsure about how a person is feeling, ask. It’s the most direct way to gain understanding and show we care. “Help me understand,” “How are you feeling?” and “I’d like to hear more about what you’re thinking” go a long way in fostering understanding and showing compassion.
- Be an active listener. Fortunately, listening is something we can learn. At times—to truly understand another—it helps to be more active in your listening by responding in the form of paraphrasing what you just heard. It’s also important to consider emotions, feelings, and values behind the words. What a person says is often packed with tone, pace of speech, facial expressions, gestures, and other nonverbal cues—all of which impact meaning.
- Assume the best. Take the positive point of view—especially when you don’t have all the facts. Too often, when a situation has a negative outcome, it’s because something was misunderstood, or someone misconstrued something somewhere along the line. Assume that the other party has the best of intentions. Start there, and then arrive at a solution together.
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