#1. (Actively) Listen More Than You Speak
Most of us speak at least twice as much as we listen.
It’s easy to get so caught up explaining something that we fail to stop and consider what the other person might be thinking or feeling.
And empathetic person, on the other hand, listens first; and only speaks after they’ve carefully heard. Here at Mindmaven, we call this Active listening.
Here are five steps you can take to become a better listener:
Commit your undivided attention to the conversation. That means no cell phones, tablets, or computers. Communicate this undivided attention by maintaining steady eye contact.
Let the speaker actually speak. Give them the time they need to finish their thoughts and avoid interrupting them.
Summarise your understanding. Once the speaker has finished talking, summarise your understanding back to them. Then ask, “Have I understood this correctly?”
Ask insightful, relevant questions. Tap into your natural curiosity and ask nonjudgmental questions to better understand the other person’s perspectives, thoughts, and feelings.
Allow the other person to rant. When someone’s having troubles of some kind, they may be emotionally flustered. That’s okay. Give them the space to feel that. Let them talk from their heart and share how they feel; often, this will lead to them discovering their own solutions.
And here’s the best part: Although people often uncover their own solutions whilst talking with an empathetic person, they often end up attributing that solution to the empathizer anyway. So even if you did very little in the conversation, the other person probably won’t see it that way.
To learn more about the art of active listening, check out Could You Say That Again? 5 Tips to Build Better Relationships Through Active Listening.
#2: Express Your Perspective
After you’ve heard the other person out, you’re in an excellent position to express empathy by voicing how you’d feel in that same situation. For example:
“That must feel absolutely awful,”
“I wouldn’t know what to do, or”
“It’s hard for me to hear what you just said because the whole situation just makes me feel so angry.”
These comments are all great ways to show you understand how the other person is feeling. The catch is that these statements must be genuine.
So try to imagine exactly what the other person is going through. Put yourself in their shoes, experience the moment as if it were happening to you, and let your emotions guide you.
Once you feel those emotions, voice them. More often than not, your emotional response will be very similar to theirs; and this will cause the other person to feel understood and heard, leading to a greater sense of connection between you both.
#3: Be Vulnerable
Too many professional conversations stay in emotional “Safe zones.”
We fear vulnerability because we worry that others may perceive us as foolish or weak. Brené Brown—a brilliant woman at the forefront of vulnerability research—disagrees.
Brown says that vulnerability actually helps us connect with others, because it communicates that we’re human; complete with our own weaknesses, hurts, and fears. This creates a feeling of “sameness” that gives the other person something to connect to.
As Shana Lebowitz points out in this brilliant feature, even Benjamin Franklin noticed this pattern, stating “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged.”
Put simply: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help shows vulnerability, and vulnerability often leads to that greater sense of connection and relation.
Here are three steps to practice being more vulnerable in your professional interactions:
After you’ve carefully listened to the other person, try to think of a time you were in a similar situation.
For example: You may have encountered a problem with a project falling apart due to in-fighting with the team.
Remember what you felt in that situation. Maybe you didn’t handle confrontation well, so you felt apprehension and anxiety.
Express those feelings to the other person, then share what you learned through the process.
By sharing our own insecurities and mistakes, we connect through our common humanity; and this common ground is one of the most important foundations you can lay in a relationship.