As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an important dimension to address is empathy. Empathy is literally our ability to recognize or “feel” the feelings and emotions of others. Strengthening an emotional connection to others through empathy is critical as it builds our skills of understanding and it is through understanding that we learn to appreciate different perspectives and begin to value the unique strengths that individuals bring to our world.
Some of the very basic ways to build and strengthen our ability to empathize with others is through effective listening and focusing our attention on the other person. In most conversations, we have a tendency to believe in the perceived importance of our response and spend our energy thinking about what to say very quickly after hearing the first few words out of someone’s mouth. We mentally hustle through a set of assumptions, personal experiences, etc. after hearing someone’s initial comments and we miss a critical opportunity to listen and focus which will enable our ability to empathize more effectively.
We have to exercise a fair amount of discipline to listen first and speak later as much of our experience in school, the workplace, and the home front demonstrates an importance of being quick with a response. The effective listeners in meetings, in the classroom, and in the home have a tendency to be steam-rolled by a quick and perhaps loud individual. In addition, as we all participate in today’s “online chatter” via text, email, and various social media, it is important to understand that studies have shown these forms of communication decrease empathy in children and adults. Wise business leaders, teachers, and family members work hard to draw out the “listeners” as they help us all see a deeper understanding that many times will help to advance the cause of the team or more effectively complete the task at hand.
There is a significant, additional benefit of building our empathy through effective listening and focus that is sometimes missed in discussions on the importance of listening to others. As we strengthen an emotional connection to others through empathy, our efforts are usually rewarded by the other person feeling compelled to reciprocate in focusing their efforts on listening to us. This cycle of reciprocation of listening helps to create a more caring and understanding environment which is critical to solving our biggest challenges in the workplace and in the home.
If each of us can take some incremental steps towards improving our ability to empathize with others through effective listening and focus, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for improved relationships in the workplace and in the home.
What techniques have helped you to become a better listener? Please share a comment below