How to Show Empathy and Not Get Sucked into Slime Pits
Empathy is a platform for relationship, not encouragement to wallow in slime pits.
Solid relationships strengthen people.
Strong people perform better than weak.
The power of empathy:
The purpose of empathy is to strengthen people, not affirm weakness.
People feel stronger when they feel understood. Telling someone, “That must be discouraging,” lets them know it’s OK to feel dark emotion.
Before people feel understood, they work to validate themselves. After they feel understood, they’re free to move forward.
Empathy that promotes stagnation and weakness harms people.
The energy of empathy:
Use empathy as a platform to move the game forward.
Empathize, don’t offer quick solutions. You devalue people when you minimize their struggle. If the problem was easy for them to solve, they would have solved it.
Stay curious a bit longer and offer solutions a bit slower. Curiosity is one solution to our inclination to offer quick solutions.
Take action, don’t simply listen. Invite someone out to lunch, for example. Include others. Go to a concert, or sporting event as a small group.
The power of empathy is increased when others are involved.
After people feel understood…
Build an environment where people find their own solutions.
#1. Believe in people’s capacity to move forward. “You’ve overcome challenges in the past. What did you learn that might apply now?”
Remind people of their strength by asking about past success.
#2. Nudge people toward the future.
“What would you like to happen?” (Focus on things within their control.) Discouraged people are stuck in ‘don’t wants’. Ask, “What DO you want?”
#3. Connect with passion and purpose. “Why is that important to you?”
#4. Encourage imperfect progress. “What small step forward might YOU take today?”
#5. Be available. “How can I help?”
Don’t rush to solutions when someone struggles with dark emotion, but don’t wallow either.
What does empathy look like, and sound like from your vantage point?
How does empathy build strength and capacity in others?
Empathy vs sympathy. Now that is a long discussions. I believe true empathy can not be shown unless you have been there. Where the employee is (dark place) can only be understood by someone who had been there. The other big nugget in your post, ask what do you want. WOW I learned that lesson the hard way. You cant “fix” a employee they have to do it them self. Its your job as a leader to give them the tools to do it.
Thanks Walt. You got me thinking about “being there myself.” I’ve never given birth. I know about pain. But it’s silly, maybe offensive to make it seem like I understand what it’s like to give birth.
Can we let someone know we see their pain, even if we’ve never felt the same pain? I think we can, but it’s important to do it humbly.
Just a few thoughts. Thanks again.
Working 17 years in a 911 center I leaned how to separated empathy and sympathy. You are right we cant show empathy if we have not been in that situation but we can still show compassion and sympathy. I always worried about any co-workers who things didn’t bother them. My issue was calls with kids, it would mess me up for the rest of the shift. My first trainer told me we don’t cry on this job but if you have something in your eye making your eyes water go to the bathroom like everyone else does.
Empathy is an under used tool in building relationships and leadership. The whole “Power of Empathy” section is so important! Our society fails to understand this or practice empathy. Homework for all of us!
Thanks Vicki. Maybe we are afraid that empathy makes us look weak. But the opposite is true. It’s the confident who can get out of themselves and understand others.
I find that when people are in their greatest need for empathy, others often don’t know what to do. This is true of personal as well as work crises.
To help you need to spend time, face to face is best. And you need to spend at least ten minutes before you have any impact or the other person opens up. I find myself telling a story which may or may not be related helps and certainly distracts the other person for a short while from their problems.
Thanks Brad. You are so right. I’ve made a decision when I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do. Err on the side of doing something. Express uncertainty. But do something. I’m not sure what to do … but.
Perhaps the simple, “How can I help,” is useful when we don’t know what to do,
Capacity IS strength.
But just because you CAN
Doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
Considered Affirmation empowers,
Reflexive Empathy enables.
We need to worry about ETHICS,
choices carefully considered;
whether or not everyone is “happy.”
The mob rules when feelings reign,
The principle prospers when all can affirm.
The rest is just noise/not signal.
To me, empathy is the ability to recognize someone has strong feelings about something and wants someone to notice it. They don’t say, “I’m frustrated because…, or “I’m feeling completely overwhelmed with…” But as a leader/manager, to be able to say, “I can hear the frustration in your voice,” or “It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed with this new project that was added to your plate,” gives them a chance to truly feel heard. It defuses their strong feelings and helps them to move on and open the door to a discussion with someone who values them and with whom they have trust. Don’t forget to use empathy to recognize positive emotions, either! “I’m sure you must feel very proud, are excited…” It’s important to validate those positive emotions as well. To be truly heard is a gift!
Thank-you for both your title and the insight behind that title. I’ve noticed the quantity of writers on Facebook increasing with personal sharing of distress, grief, anxiety often followed by many responses of support. As a few others have mentioned , empathy indicates a genuine , non judgemental “hearing” of what is being said, minus a quick stepping in as Super Savior to remedy the situation. I like your suggestion to invite the suffering person to recall past successful ways they have used to meet challenges. From past experiences I have grown quite wary of falling into the pit you talked about. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher