We humans managed to get out of the caves and change the world not because we had superpowers but because we developed the ability to communicate clearly and precisely. I mean how does one communicate something as complex as a Quantum theory! Without tools like words, sound and pictures, it would be impossible to be where we are as a civilization. But sadly, the communication tools, which helped us achieve technological wonders have also been responsible for so much of the hatred that we see all around us. Somewhere along the road to civilization, we waylaid empathy.
The problem is that too many people don’t understand what empathy means and how large its role is in our day to day communication. Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson sums it well: “Empathy is not mollycoddling, and it’s not a synonym for sympathy. It’s not solving someone’s problems for them or feeling pity… .Empathy is an advanced communication skill that requires . . . understand[ing] the other person’s perspective by identifying his or her problems, needs, feelings, thoughts and values.”
Here are some methods to develop your empathic communication skills:
- Increase your attention span by detaching yourself from your own thoughts and by being present in the moment.
- Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying.
- Refrain from quickly assessing a situation and reacting.
- Listen actively by participating in what the other person says. Make the effort to see the situation from their perspective and have the patience to let them finish what they are saying.
- Don’t just be fixated on what the speaker is saying but also take note of the context.
- Check whether what you heard and what the other person didn’t verbalize is correct. Don’t assume.
With a little conscience effort, we can all learn to communicate empathically. I can bet, it will change the way you relate to people around you and your relationships will become more meaningful.