Empathy is awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
Daniel Goleman, in Working with Emotional Intelligence
Emotional skills are essential for creating a meaningful dialog between people and developing friendly, fulfilling relationships. Not only do they allow people to express themselves clearly but they can also help to avoid misunderstandings and show empathy and compassion.
Have you ever experienced a situation where you wanted to help somebody feel better but instead you created a wall between the two of you?
No one wants to constantly hear:
‘Yes, I understand you completely’ or ‘I know what you mean’.
If you don’t want to sound emotionless, it is about time for you to watch what comes out of your mouth.
Regardless of the language you speak, you should never respond in the following way:
-My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
-I know how you feel. Mine’s the same.
Instead: I’m sorry to hear that. What makes you feel that way?
-If I could speak a second language, I would find a better job.
-I have the same problem.
Instead: What do you think stops you from learning a new language?
-No matter what I do the boss is always criticising me.
-I know exactly how you feel.
Instead: What makes you feel that way?
-I have so many things on my plate.
-Me too. I’m totally stressed out.
Instead: What are the most urgent things you have to deal with?
-I didn’t get the promotion again.
-No worries. It could’ve been worse!
Instead: Do you know what the reason could be?
-I’m so terrible at grammar!
-I think you should study more.
Instead: What do you think would help you to get better at it?
-I’m so dumb!
-Don’t say that! That’s not true!
Instead: What makes you to think that?
As you can see, the alternative, supporting responses are in the form of a question.
Albert Einstein said: ‘’If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.’’
Asking the proper questions is a great way to find out more about the respondent and their concerns or wishes. It is also essential when trying to build a deep relationship or be empathetic.
Responding with questions will enable you to understand the emotions of others and can, in turn, invite creativity and open up potential solutions which would have otherwise been impossible.
Avoid ‘why’ questions, which can cause people to become defensive. Focus on facts and information without blaming or judging other person’s behaviour or feelings.
Instead of blindly searching for a suitable answer, saying a cliché or, even worse, criticising, use your emotional skills and communication to create a dialogue where the other person has a space to open up, feel understood and find a resolution.