Build Empathy into Your Interactions

hands raised with hearts in the palms
The concept of Empathy is one of the basic components of emotional and social intelligence. It is a critical part of self-awareness, relationships with others, and is key to successful leadership. Empathy is an attribute that consists of three interrelated parts:

1. Understanding another person’s perspective,
2. Considering how that person feels, and
3. Telling the other person you are aware of 1 & 2.

Even for those who excel at this attribute, it is easy to lose sight of empathy in daily interactions. Leaders swim amid a sea of data and emotions, sorting through it all with their own filters and biases. When they are not mindful of empathy, opportunities to build relationships are lost and relationships may even be damaged.
If you build empathy into your interactions, Then you will establish trusting relationships.

We have found 2 techniques helpful with empathy: The Ladder of Inference and Deconstructing Conversations.

Climbing the Ladder of Inference
The Ladder of Inference is a useful tool for practicing empathy and inviting the other person to be empathetic. How does it work? Start at the bottom of the ladder with data. Get all the facts out on the table. As you proceed up the ladder, follow the script as you share your perspectives and feelings. Encourage the other person to do the same. As the conversation emerges and you reach agreement after each step, both of you will understand each other’s perspective. Before taking action, set aside time to deconstruct the conversation.

If you invite empathy into your interactions, Then you and the other person will understand where each other is coming from.

Deconstruct Your Conversations
In our last 2 posts we explored the concept of empathy, why it is important for leaders, and how to invite empathy into your interactions. In part 3 of our empathy series, we will describe how to practice empathy on the back end of interactions by deconstructing your conversations
Even if you are intentional about building empathy into your interactions, it may not truly blossom in the moment. Critical conversations need to be deconstructed. Once you step aside and ask yourself deconstructive questions, you may uncover more feelings and perspectives from the other person that need to be acknowledged. Deconstructing goes beyond ‘reflecting on’ or ‘evaluating’ a conversation: it provides you with rich data and direction on how to proceed in your follow-up conversation. For example, you can say, “I heard where you are coming from… I appreciate… I see an opportunity to…”
If you deconstruct your conversations, then you will deepen your relationships.

Use the following deconstructive questions to ask yourself, “Did I practice empathy? Did others understand me?”
• Did I set the stage for the person to reflect?
• Did we schedule a follow-up conversation?
• Did I seek to understand the other person’s perspective?
• Did I understand what the other person was feeling?
• Did the other person understand my perspective and feelings?
• What opportunities became apparent?

Write your answers to each of the deconstructive questions. Have new perspectives or insights emerged? Share a summary of your answers with the other person then inquire about their thoughts:
“How do you feel about the previous conversation?”
“Do you have a different view than before?”
“What is your conclusion?”


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