In my last post, I talked about step 1 to establishing effective empathy and noted that you need to both be aware of and overcome the barriers to empathy which might exist between you and the person with whom you are trying to communicate. These barriers act as filters through which what you say is interpreted and, often, misunderstood. Taking the time to interact with another person and find the common ground that you share begins to set up the foundation from which empathy is built.
Step 2 involves using your knowledge about emotions to provide you with a context for your interactions with the other person. Step 3 involves showing the other person that you do understand their point of view. You do this by communicating that you are aware of and acknowledge the barriers that exist between you. You also need to validate their feelings about the issue that both of you are trying to resolve. This is what “understanding” is all about.
If the other person does not feel that they are being understood, you can’t establish that you care about them or that you understand them, both of which are critical to establishing empathy.
You demonstrate that you understand another person’s point of view when you address the message of the emotion they are showing you. This is what emotional mastery is all about.
The emotion you see in the other person is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves. This is the emotional process which I addressed in earlier posts. Each emotion communicates a different message. When you understand the message of the emotion, you can address the concerns of the other person.
The message of the basic emotions are as follows:
- Anger: I perceive a threat which I believe I can eliminate if I throw enough force at it.
- Anxiety: I perceive a possible threat in the future that MAY hurt me.
- Guilt: I have done something wrong that I need to make right.
- Regret: I either did (or did not) do something that led to a negative outcome that I am powerless to correct.
- Sad: I have lost something or someone who was very important to me.
I addressed anxiety and anger in earlier posts and I will address regret in a future post.
If a person is angry with you, you “master” their emotion and establish empathy by attempting to determine the threat they perceive. Are you the threat? Is a new policy the threat? Has something changed in the work setting? You might say, “I can see that you are angry.” This is the beginning of empathy but does not establish effective empathy.
To be effective, you need to add, “Can you help me understand what it is that you are so angry about?”
When they tell you the object of their anger and you realize that this situation is perceived as a threat, you can then work with them to eliminate the perceived threat in such a way that both of you get what you want.
This is exactly the opposite of what happened when professional women expressed anger about a situation in their work settings and the men in that setting demeaned them and marginalized them. The men appeared to feel threatened by the women’s assertive behavior.
I have tried to give you a basic foundation for establishing effective empathy. If you would like a more indepth discussion of this issue or a point I have made is not clear, let me know in the comments section.