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Five Ways to Enhance Your Empathy

Most of us understand empathy and most of us apply empathy in our personal friendships, with our children, in our volunteer work, etc.  How many of us are leading and serving with empathy everyday in the workplace? I recently spent a day with a customer service team and we really explored the many facets of applying empathy in tough customer service situations. The insights by the team were remarkable. Simply, empathy is the ability to put one’s self in another’s shoes. Always practicing this seemingly simple definition takes work and can be improved. Here are five ways to enhance your empathy.

1. Intentionally Listen. The next time one of your team members has a question or a concern, put down the phone, stop typing, forget your to-do list and intentionally listen. What is this person really saying beyond the words they are speaking? What is it like to share their question or their concern?

2. Listen Actively. While talking with a direct report, customer or co-worker listen actively. Inquire more about what they are saying with open ended questions. Paraphrase what they are saying to ensure you truly understand. Help the person feel heard.

3. Remember 80-90% of Communication is Non-Verbal. What we actually say accounts for very little of how our message is heard. How is your tone? What is your body position? What facial expressions are you making? An accidental frown because you are thinking of something you forgot to do earlier (remember intentional listening) can dilute an entire message.

4. Refrain From Interrupting People. While there are moments when another just seems to go on and on, the majority of the time we are just anticipating when we can speak next. Sometimes we just have to interrupt because our point is so important! The point may be important, but so is the other person’s.

5. Check Your Assumptions. Sometimes we think we understand what a person is feeling because we assume it is similar to our own situation or another familiar situation. This is not always the case. Simply check in with the person and test your assumptions to determine you truly understand and empathize with them.

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

– Spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird