Communication skills

Communication skills and techniques: Showing empathy

- December 5, 2007 3 MIN READ

As part of our lives as solopreneurs, we come across many different people who hold many different view points. To deal effectively with those who have a different opinion to our own, empathy is an important communication technique to develop.

I believe we all have three basic needs when interacting with others and understanding these will help us to more effectively deal with others and improve our communications skills and communication techniques.

Everyone wants to be heard and understood

Understanding another’s viewpoint, especially one that is the opposite of yours, takes empathy and listening skills. Empathy means the ability to understand another viewpoint so well, you could just about walk in their shoes, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

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Counsellors often describe a mental approach called ‘unconditional positive regard’. This is where you suspend judgement and your ego needs in order to pay full attention to the other person.

You start by communicating your intention to understand their position. “I can see you are upset. Help me understand why you are upset.” And then let them tell their story without interrupting or being defensive. As they talk, you need to communicate your understanding. “That must be so frustrating for you” or “I can see now why that would annoy you.” These responses must be genuine, of course.

Although empathy is intangible, its effects can be surprisingly real. I have seen an upset person do a 360 degree turn and become accommodating and co-operative once they realise I understood their position and did not judge them for their feelings.

On the downside, some people can mistake your empathy for the unconditional support of their viewpoint. Just because you understand someone’s viewpoint, you don’t have to agree with it or even like it. That remains your prerogative.

Everyone wants to feel valued and included

The best way to build inclusiveness is to show your respect. Ask for feedback and opinions, value everything you hear and show your appreciation. Talk to and listen to everyone on the project. Start with the intention that everyone has something to offer.

I once had to work with someone who insisted everything was a mess. I persisted in involving him in all discussions. I often asked him in private why he thought a particular issue was unsolvable. Funnily enough, most of the time, he did have something valuable to say. Over time, his abrasive demeanour abated as he realised I actually cared about what he was contributing.

Everyone wants to be engaging in something worthwhile and meaningful

Knowing you are working your butt off on something completely pointless has got to be a low in anyone’s work. When people are not given an opportunity to understand the big picture of what they do or cannot see meaning in their activity, they become disengaged. Productivity and quality suffer as a result.

Even as consumers, we seek meaning in our purchases beyond just the product specifications. The ever present demand for brand name goods is one clear example.

I don’t believe you can create meaning out of thin air. What is meaningful to you may not be so to another person. The skill here is to find and express the meaning inherent in your project or business and make it relevant and accessible to the right people. You may have to communicate this meaning differently to the various people involved in your business.

The communication skills I have outlined assumes you are dealing with people who are generally reasonable and have good self control. Unfortunately these communication techniques may not work as well with the small minority of people who have anger issues or personality disorders.

All the empathy in the world won’t be able to get through to someone who is on an aggressive attack. I set clear boundaries – verbal or physical abusive is unacceptable.

Telling me how to feel, think, or perceive a situation is unacceptable. In the rare occasion when this has happened, I immediately and calmly walked away. Remember, it is your responsibility to look after yourself.

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"