Empathy: What You're Not Getting

By Canadian Management Centre

Empathy What You're Doing Wrong Banner

We need empathy to make connections and build trust. 

Doesn’t feel revolutionary, does it? 

But as executive coach and communications expert Kristi Hedges points out, “it’s not having empathy that’s the issue. It’s expressing empathy that’s the issue.” Put another way, it’s not about you—about what you think and feel—it’s about them. When you astrally project yourself into that other person’s shoes, do they actually feel heard and understood, or is all that connection happening in your head alone? If you’re not sure, your efforts may be falling short. 

So, how can you express empathy in a way that builds the trust and connection needed for strong, high-functioning relationships? Here are 2 techniques to try in your next critical conversation.

Technique #1: Observe and Reflect
“Deanna, I notice that you seem to be frustrated by how long this process is taking. I know you’ve been waiting for months and it sounds like you are running out of patience. Have I got that right?”

Suspend your agenda and pay attention to the other person—their posture, expression, tone of voice, anything going on that you might be aware of. Do they appear to be stressed, frustrated, energized?

Don’t assume you’ve got it right and definitely don’t assume you know why. Instead, reflect what you see back to them, without judgement, and give them space to respond. 

Technique #2: Paraphrase and Check
“Jake, I hear you saying that you want to be entrusted with more responsibility and that being under constant supervision by management impacts your energy levels and creativity. Is that what you meant?”

Here’s another factoid we all know all too well—listening is hard work! We also hear, over and over, that it’s super important. 

Paraphrasing—simply restating what you’ve understood in your own words (so you don’t sound like a mindless parrot) is one of the best ways to stay focused on what the other person is really saying, make sure you’ve got it right, and show that person that you care enough about them to actually pay attention.  

Just like in Technique #1, don’t forget to suspend those assumptions! Nothing kills your empathy efforts like confidently stating that you totally get it—and getting it totally wrong. After you paraphrase, check your understanding—a simple “do I have that right?” will do just fine. 

Got 5 more minutes to get better at empathy? Watch this video by Kristi Hedges to learn more about expressing empathy and getting through to anyone in even the toughest situations.


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