Empathy to be a Better Communicator
How to Use Empathy to be a Better Communicator
The key to great communication is understanding others. A true ability to understand others goes beyond what the other person is saying – it’s about understanding their unique perspective and reality.
The ability to recognize emotions in others and understand the lens with which they view the world is empathy. The best communicators are genuinely empathetic in their interactions with others and this builds a level of trust and connection with the other person.
To become more empathetic in your daily communications you have to make a conscious effort to understand the differences between you and the people around you. A lack of empathy in conflict situations can lead you to believe the other person is unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable. In most cases, this isn’t true. The other person isn’t out to get you with malicious intent, they are just seeing the situation from the perspective of their own unique background and emotions and reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have.
Once you can view the situation from the other person’s perspective and understand why they believe what they do, acknowledge it. You do not need to agree with them to acknowledge their perspective, but a shared understanding shows the other person that you’re invested in them and the conversation, and that you respect your differences.
You should continue the conversation by actively listening to what the other person has to say. This can be particularly difficult if you have vastly different perspectives. Listen to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate:
Listen with your ears – What words are being used? What is their tone?
Listen with your eyes – What is the other person doing? Is their body language sending you a message that their words are not?
Listen with your instincts – Is the person uncomfortable? Is there something that they’re holding back?
Listen with your heart – How do you think the other person feels? Is this an easy or a difficult conversation for them?
If you’re still not clear on the other person’s perspective, ask them. Asking them directly isn’t the best way to develop empathy, but it is better than not being able to understand their position.
Like any skill, empathy can be developed through practice. Practicing empathy in daily conversations will help it become a natural activity and will improve your relationships with others. By increasing your interest in what others think, feel, and experience, you will be perceived as more caring and approachable.
Here are some tips you can use to create empathetic conversations:
Be engaged and actively listen to the other person’s words and body language.
Pay close attention, physically and mentally, to the other person and your conversation
Respond encouragingly to the other person’s message – you do not have to agree with them, but you should strive to understand.
Be flexible. During the course of the conversation, the other person’s position and feelings may change and you should be prepared to change in response.
Another key to empathy is putting yourself in a position to be empathetic. This means making time for conversations you engage in and not bringing emotions from other aspects of your life into unrelated conversations with others.
Here are some tips you can use to help create an empathetic mindset:
Take care of yourself so that you are happy and can approach conversations from a positive position.
Practice empathy by acknowledging and naming your own feelings. When you understand your own feelings, you can better connect with others.
Know your trigger points. If there are things that other people say or do during a conflict conversation that really push your buttons and take away your ability to be empathetic be self-aware and put the conversation on pause vs. reacting emotionally.
Ask questions. A lot of content and meaning is left out of what people say. Asking questions can help you get more information and uncover deeper motivations.
Validate and appreciate how other people are feeling instead of critiquing.
Empathy sometimes gets a bad rap and is considered a touchy-feely, “soft” skill. Empathy is actually a critical communication skill that, when mastered, can allow you to better understand others and develop higher quality relationships.