- You are interacting with another person whose behavior you find excessive, inappropriate, or “wrong” and you have no clue as to what is “causing” the behavior.
- Because you have a “relationship”with this person, you want to gain a better understanding of them and their actions.
- You have no clue how to begin the “process of understanding”.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar “situation”?
Most likely, the answer is yes.
Possible “relationships” include:
- a parent with their child
- a boss with his or her subordinates
- a leader with his or her followers (volunteers/team)
- a spouse
- an adult child with aging parents
- a person dealing with clients or customers
- and so forth.
In pursuit of understanding, you may have read , or been advised, that you should “put yourself in their shoes”. This is what empathy is all about.
While empathizing with another person is good, there are at least 3 reasons why you might find it difficult to achieve.
- You may have tried to do this but “empathy” is not your strong suit.
I know of a very intelligent individual who works in the medical profession. He views himself as very good at “understanding” the clients he works with but tends to focus on the issues he sees in the client’s reasoning or behavior. He does not seem able to put himself in their shoes and experience his understanding from their point of view.
- The gap between you and the other person is too wide and inhibits your “putting yourself in their shoes”.
This gap could be due to a difference in age, gender, race, religion, or culture. Or, some other factor such as your values.
- You found yourself judging the other person as “wrong”. When you judge another person, you have made a decision about them and the process of empathizing with (or even understanding) them stops.
While empathy is beneficial, it isn’t crucial.
So, even if you find it difficult to empathize with another person, you can still begin to understand them and their point of view.
Understanding another person facilitates your effectively interacting with them, improving the relationship you have with them and even, where appropriate, disciplining them.
A person’s behavior is based on their perception of the situation in which they find themselves.
Their perception of the situation is based on their “model” of the world.
Their “world” includes you.
In attempting to understand how another person is perceiving what is going on and the behavior they are engaging in based on that perception, you need to make three assumptions. These assumptions set the stage and create an environment for understanding.
- Assume that the behavior you are seeing is neither “right” nor “wrong”. It is just their behavior.
- Assume that every person’s behavior is “valid” for them because it is consistent with their model of the world.
- Assume that their behavior is the “best” that they are capable of doing given their current skill set and their model of the world.
I will discuss each assumption in more detail and give an example in Part 2 next week.
I hope the above was helpful.
If you find it useful, please send this link to someone else who might benefit from it.
And, finally, please leave a comment.