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Communication 101 – How to Use Empathy for Better Communication

In organisations and departments with various roles, diverse skillsets, and unique personalities, it’s easy to see how communication issues can quickly derail the results that everyone is trying to achieve.

Empathy can be the bridge that fills these inevitable gaps that can quickly occur in fast-paced working environments.

What is empathy?

Empathy

ˈɛmpəθi/

noun: empathy

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

When we see things from someone else’s perspective, we stop processing what they say through our thoughts, experiences, and judgments.

In doing so, we gain an understanding of what it is like to be in their world.

We see what they see.

We need to be mindful that we don’t misread any given situation in our attempts to be empathetic or make assumptions about how people feel.  The best way to avoid misunderstandings is to check in by using open-ended questions:

What do you mean by….?

How does that impact XXX?

How do you feel about that?

Tell me more about…

What does that mean for you?

Explain why…

In doing this, we allow the person to express themselves, which helps us understand the situation rather than make assumptions about it.

Stephen Covey (Author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) was a big believer in empathetic communication. He also promoted the merits of listening, which of course, is crucial to good communication.

According to Covey, there are five levels of listening:

  1. Ignoring the speaker (not listening, waiting for your turn to speak, already decided what you’re going to say)
  2. Pretending to listen – nodding, doing other things, could not replay what the person said
  3. Selective listening – picking out what’s of interest to you – not getting the overall message.
  4. Attentive listening -focussed on the speaker, concentrating on what they have to say => follow up questions
  5. Empathetic listening – focussed on the speaker, listens carefully to the words used, understands the feeling behind those words, recognises the emotions being expressed, talks less, listens more.

There is no secret trick to listening – we can’t download it, and we can’t order it from amazon to be delivered the next day.

However, we can make a decision – that when we’re with someone, we give them our full attention, dialing up all the way to level five listening. 

Empathetic communication represents a high-level connection that enables us to meet each other on the same level – human to human.

We move from our side of the table to their side, and from here, we see differently.  

From this perspective, we can make an impact when it comes to communicating because we know what works, and we know that what we are saying is of genuine interest to the other person, because we have taken the time to understand them and what’s important to them.

Try putting empathy at the heart of your communication strategy and be amazed at the difference it will make to you, your colleagues, and your ability to achieve results.

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