Remember that effective empathy involves being able to understand another person’s world from their point of view.
Recall also, that there are three steps to establishing effective empathy. The three steps are: 1. Establish that you genuinely care enough to want to understand how the other person sees the world, 2. Use your knowledge of emotional mastery as a basis for your empathic communications. and 3. Take the time to let them help you understand how they see their world (and you, as part of that world).
Barriers to effective empathy include differences between you and the other person which could act as filters which prohibit you from understanding how they see their world as well as any “language deficits” which might distort the messages (either from you to them or vice versa) being communicated.
You may experience barriers as you attempt to establish that you genuinely care in step 1 and in step 3 as you attempt to be empathic.
In my last post, I mentioned some of the barriers to empathy that I had to overcome with the young incarcerated women including history and gender, race, and language. All three were critical. As a white middle class doctor with no history of incarceration, I was clearly different from my clients in appearance, language, and experience.
Given the correctional setting in which I worked, my client’s (correct based on their experience) view of men as abusive, untrustworthy and, often, dangerous, and my graduate school based language, any words I used which implied that I either cared about or understood these young women would come across as empty, insincere, and unlikely. I overcame these barriers by clearly stating that I could not know their world, clearly stating that I wanted to help them and needed their help in order to do this, being consistent in the boundaries I set and the statements I made, and learning to communicate in a manner (using emotional explanations and examples and asking lots of questions) that was non threatening and easy to understand.
I was successful with these young women because I was able to establish that we shared a common interest or, at least, a common ground. The client wanted to get out and stay out of “jail” and I wanted to help them do this. They needed my help and I needed them to help me be able to work with them.
Step 1 to overcoming barriers is to establish, over time, that you and the person with whom you are communicating either share common goals or share a common ground from which both of you can achieve your goals either as a “win-win” or through compromise and that you are interested in helping them achieve (as much as possible) their goals.
In a work setting, those goals might be to improve the office working environment, build a more successful business, improve worker satisfaction and productivity, be recognized for one’s contributions, and so forth. Sharing common goals or a common ground does not mean that management and workers, or even co-workers, always agree or see goals in the same light. Indeed, the WSJ article notes the importance of “acknowledg(ing) emotions and hold(ing) employees accountable”. The implication is that a goal (perhaps improving accountability) might be obtained by empathizing with, finding out the concerns of, and ultimately helping the employee become more accountable. The manager wants more accountability and the employee wants to be heard and appreciated. Accountability will follow being heard and appreciated.
If the goals of the employee are emotionally driven, you will need to understand what emotion, or emotions, are driving the individual and the message of the emotions being displayed. This is the information of emotional mastery and it is this information that becomes the foundation of the empathic language you can use to overcome the emotional barriers that confront you. This is step 2.
I will continue this discussion in my next posting.