We’ve been through some insightful learning experiences here at A2B over these past few weeks. One of the largest lessons that our weekly team meetings have taught us, is doing our utmost to understand what the other person is experiencing from their own reference point.
We call this idea empathy - mind you it is not without its difficulties.
To enable yourself to see things from the other person’s perspective.
To walk a mile in their shoes. To see through their eyes.
To see the echoes of another person in yourself.
This idea of empathy is considered a ‘soft skill’ and soft implies easy but there’s nothing easy about adopting this skill and the benefits of the adopter are astronomical over time. Being able to repeatedly step outside of ourselves to try and interpret how things must feel for another is one of the most important things we can learn in the pursuit of helping people.
And while some might feel that they don’t always want help, nor do some think they may need help; many might be afraid to ask for it and if they do, it will often be because they’ve found a sense of empathy and trustworthiness in your persona that gave them the courage to do so and speak up.
Let us not mistake the idea of empathy with sympathy. Many people seldom want pity or sorrow, they want to know that they’re supported but that they’re also acknowledged as strong, resilient and capable to evolve on their own. They find purpose in knowing that they have good people in their corner.
What makes for practical empathy? Our practice day in and day out has found a few key take-aways to incorporate more empathy in your life and in the life of those around you:
Listen to someone. Even when someone seems as though they’re finished talking with you, hold the space, pause for a moment and ask: Is there anything else?
Do your utmost to withhold your judgement. We all have judgements, it’s a part of being human and so it is a perfectly natural element in any situation with other people, but show you understand in your expressions, your head nods and with your eyes.
Smile. Often and consistently. It’s ideal in person but even on the phone, people can sense you doing this.
Reciprocate. After you have listened to someone and done everything you can to have them speak through what is on their mind try to share something personal about yourself with them. This can be a powerful way to build trust through a sense of shared understanding. The sharing of deep parts of yourself can ultimately lead to strength, growth and connection.
Some people question the last point - that is, don't share your own personal things - but arguably I have found this to be especially important in relating to one another and allowing the person your speaking with to understand that we're both flesh and bone, and that we have a lot more in common than we might expect.
Empathy carries with it enormous rewards, it takes time and patience to put it into practice but anyone can learn the skills to do so – and we will continue to learn it through the lessons life and others will throw at us – so keep on working at it.
Yours in health,
Dr Troy Walker