What if I told you that you had a magical superpower that could transform your relationships while enriching your life dramatically? You have the power. It’s called empathy.
Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski explains: “As a coach, a parent, or a leader of any kind, one of the most important things that you can feel for one of your ‘teammates’ is empathy. If someone believes that you can identify with their situation and understand their feelings, they are more apt to trust you, which leads to faster responses to situations and better conclusions.”
Empathy is the key to mutual otherishness and shared consciousness. The word comes from the Greek root empatheia, meaning “affection, passion.” It’s at the heart of the art of connection.
What It Would Be Like To Walk A Mile In My Shoes
In colloquial language, we speak about putting ourselves in someone else’s position. Some guides to listening actually teach this as a technique. They encourage you to assume the posture of the person to whom you’re listening as a way to establish rapport. It’s much more effective, however, to really open yourself to the feeling of rapport by giving your full attention to the other person. Your body language will then align with the speaker’s in a natural and authentic way.
Public radio host and conversation expert Celeste Headlee advises: “Many of you have already heard a lot of advice on this, things like look the person in the eye,...look, nod, and smile to show that you’re paying attention. I want you to forget all of that. It is crap. There is no reason to learn how to show you’re paying attention if you are in fact paying attention.”
“Be My Girlfriend”
I learned an important lesson about empathy and the art of connection many years ago. My friend Alice was having a rough time. Her marriage had fallen apart and she was involved in a painful divorce, she had just been diagnosed with a melanoma, and she was going through a difficult professional transition as well.
We made arrangements to get together for dinner. The first thing she said to me when I arrived was, “I need you to be my girlfriend this evening.”
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“No, really. I do need you to be more like a girlfriend this evening,” Alice said. “I’m really hurting. I’m frightened and discouraged. All of my guy friends are trying to give me advice to help me deal with this mess that is my life. Right now, I don’t want any advice. I just need you to be present with me and listen, more like what my best female friend does for me. Do you think that’s something you can do?”
I agreed. It wasn’t easy. My mind wandered. I wanted to make jokes to ease the tension. But instead I chose to be quiet and just be with her as deeply as possible.
At the end of the evening Alice gave me a big hug and thanked me enthusiastically. She called me the next day to say that she was feeling encouraged and that our time together was just what she needed.
Being Present and Listening
I’m grateful to Alice, because this evening helped me add the option of just being present without advising or coaching to my repertoire. It’s helped me to become a better professional coach, facilitator, mentor, friend, and husband.
Now when clients or friends come to me with an issue or problem, I offer them this choice: “Would you like me to just be present and listen, or shall I ask you facilitative questions to help you figure it out for yourself, or do you want me to tell you what to do?”
People love being presented with these options. Even when they opt for advice, I usually listen carefully first and ask them some questions to help clarify the challenge.
And it’s also wonderful to know that you can ask someone to listen to you and just be present when you need it.
Copyright ©2017 by Michael J. Gelb.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library
The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs Now
by Michael J. Gelb.
These days, it’s often easier to avoid face-to-face contact in favor of technological shortcuts. But as Michael Gelb argues in this compelling, entertaining book, the meaningful relationships that come from real interaction are the key to creating innovative ideas and solving our most intractable problems. In The Art of Connection, Gelb offers readers seven methods of developing this essential rapport in their professional and personal lives.
About the Author
Michael J. Gelb is the author of The Art of Connection and has pioneered the fields of creative thinking, accelerated learning, and innovative leadership. He leads seminars for organizations such as DuPont, Merck, Microsoft, Nike, Raytheon, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is the coauthor of Brain Power and author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci and several other bestsellers. His website is www.MichaelGelb.com