Empathy is different than sympathy. Some people confuse the two. Sympathy can be necessarily in a relationship at times and counter productive in others. Sometimes it can be an easy way out to be sympathetic to someone’s problem instead of helping them solve it. Additionally, some people are addicted to sympathy and never get past their issue. Empathy on the other hand is understanding how someone is feeling but not get caught up in someone else’s emotion.
That said, in the context of a relationship or conversation if the person you are speaking to doesn’t feel like you understand what they are going through or coming from then it doesn’t matter how much you feel like you empathetically understand. Additionally, if you don’t articulate or validate your understanding you’ll never actually know if you are accurate or misreading your counterpart’s current state. As a result you may be taking actions that actually make your relationship worse rather than better. Additionally, if your goal is to influence you may be pushing all the wrong buttons and ultimately not influencing anyone.
So how can you demonstrate empathy?
Listening – This the first step to empathy that many people miss. I find that at times people are more interested in what they have to say and their own thoughts rather than listening. Therefore, some have no idea what someone else is thinking or feeling because he or she is talking constantly and dominating the conversation. Instead if your goal is to demonstrate empathy. However, if you just listen without contributing to the conversation then you fall into the category of possibly understanding but not necessarily demonstrating an understanding.
Mirroring – This is a technique where you repeat the last or last few words of the person you are speaking to. Additionally, once you get the hang of that then repeat the most important word that the other person has said. This technique makes people feel like they were heard and prompts them to elaborate on what they are saying. In conjunction, as mentioned above people like to talk and figure out their problems. So, if people you are speaking to feel like you have heard them and help them to expand their thoughts to solve a problem or just vent then you are more likely to improve a relationships.
Labeling – Labeling is using the phrases – ‘it sounds like . . . ‘, ‘it looks like . . . ‘, ‘it feels like . . . ‘, to describe a person’s emotion in the context of their conversation. I’ve found that after conversations I don’t necessarily always remember the content of the conversation but I usually remember how that conversation made me feel or how my feeling about that person has changed after a conversation. I’ve found that if I accurately articulate how a person feels our relationship improves and he or she wants to be around me more often. Emotions are really important and often times people don’t have awareness of their current state as they are in it. So, if you are able to accurately articulate how people are feeling then people will want to be around you more often. Having support for people is a must for a business whether they are clients, partners, or employees. Although some people may have higher emotional intelligence than others and are in a better disposition to articulate how someone is feeling I feel like this is a skill and a muscle that if practice for long enough will become second nature.
Summarize Understanding – once you’ve spent time listening, mirroring what others are saying, and labeling emotions. Then, summarize what someone has said to check for understanding. This is important because it solidifies your understanding of someone else in your memory and also gives you the opportunity to make sure that you got your understanding right. Ultimately, summarizing helps the person you are speaking to as well because it can help someone focus and condense unstructured thoughts into shortened and ordered ones.
Demonstrating empathy is a must for true influence. That said, you must come from a place of wanting to help the person get their best outcome. Even if you use these techniques to manipulate or take advantage of other people if may work in the short term. However, in the long run the person you are speaking with will figure it out and your reputation will be damaged in your community; a consequence that means you influence no one. Even if you are not trying to influence anyone these techniques really improve romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships. Everyone wants to be understood and feel like they are making an impact in the world. These techniques will help you to do that and that’s pretty good rights?