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Listening with Empathy

Ever find it difficult to make your point with someone? You often think it's what you say that's the problem, but in my experience, it's often what you hear. Recent conversations in media have focused on how we can move out of these charged, emotional, and highly polarized communities that we find ourselves entrenched in. Maybe your communication partner is a co-worker, a family member, or a client.

Listening was easier when we were younger

Maybe the topic is in the midst of a heated national conversation. Take some time to not only listen, but understand two things: what is the experience of the person that has brought them to this point of view, and what is happening around them that might be exciting them to an emotional state.

A brother-in-law might say "we need a wall". Where does he live? Was his company recently impacted by an economic downturn? Does he have some close friends who are dealing with the fallout of broken homes, financial insecurity, or problems with drugs or alcohol? Maybe he feels that the past few administrations had nothing to offer his company or town, and the current administration was their last, best bet.

What about a client who reacts strongly to an invoice? That last phone call was unpleasant and they've just injected a lot of emotion in your brain by questioning if they want to continue the business relationship. Ask them about their past year, and what concerns he or she might have for the future. You might find that your invoice had a few surprises in it, and came at a bad time for them and their new boss, who is assessing everyone's performance on their control of their teams, vendors, and budgets. Maybe deferring a few charges this month and cutting back for a couple of months would keep them in their new boss's good graces.

Ask questions. Understand their perspective - better yet - understand the circumstances that led them to that unique perspective. Frankly, that's more important than the details.

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