One Superpower for these times
Updated: Sep 22
This article is part two in the Beeline Coaching series: Adaptability, Empathy and Creativity, Connecting with our customers in challenging times.
Just when we thought these times couldn’t be more difficult, they are. Over these past few weeks, our country and the entire world has watched, grappled, and responded in a rising crescendo about ongoing racial injustices. Which is why I feel it would help all of us, if we could all learn to grasp the important concept of empathy.
The adage “easier said than done” does not apply to empathy. It is so difficult to put this concept concisely into words and then effectively into action!
Here goes: empathy is putting ourselves in the shoes of another and meeting them where they are. Empathy is hearing what they have to say yet not reacting to their story. Empathy instead reacts to how they are feeling and what they seem to be needing in the moment.
Huh? Yes, it requires that we listen beyond the story to hear what is happening for them in the present moment, as a result of the story.
Have you ever had the experience of sharing your relationship woes, and the response you get is… “He’s such a jerk" or "I can’t believe he did that!” This is an appropriate reaction. The listener is trying to jump to your side. However, this response doesn’t fill the bill for a full empathic response.
Marshall Rosenburg, Ph.D. developer of Non-Violent Communications has a description of empathy that really helped me to finally grasp this concept. His book, Non-Violent Communications, A Language of Life, is mind opening. In it, he describes non-violent communications in detail. I think he is 100% correct comparing his way of communicating, to learning a new language.
This book helped me understand empathy as this: “When responding empathically, our intent is to connect with what is presently alive in the person—that is, what the person is presently feeling and needing in reaction to something that has happened or not happened."
Dr. Rosenberg goes on to provide a context, "Imagine you are speaking with a friend and she says, "I can’t remember my father ever expressing any gratitude to me. He’s a compulsive person who only notices what I've done wrong, but never notices anything I do well."
If you choose to connect empathically with her, you would not focus attention on the analysis she made of the father, but rather on how she is feeling and on the needs contributing to the feelings. Thus, you might sense from her words, tone of voice, and facial expression that she is feeling hurt because her need for acceptance is not being met by her father. If you are not certain that you have empathically connected with what is alive in your friend, you could check out your connection by verbally reflecting what you are sensing is alive in your friend."
Note, my friends, the empathetic response is not “He’s such a jerk!” Or, “I can’t believe he did that!” No, the response might be closer to, “Are you feeling sad because you feel you weren’t truly seen by your father?” Or, even “You sound sad about this."
The latter responses reflect the current state your friend is in, i.e. what she is feeling and needing in the present moment and does not judge or analyze the story or her father. This response allows your friend to share what is happening now for them and for you and friend to share a deeper connection because of this empathic response/connection.
Yes! This is challenging, yet I feel it is the very essence of how we can deeply connect with others. It isn’t easy because in order to react in such a way we must have a clear grasp on feelings and needs. Yep, feeling and needs. This is another area where we struggle — having a developed and expansive vocabulary to effectively communicate feelings and needs.
As we proceed through this challenging time (that will continue to be challenging for who knows how long), gaining a better grasp on how to communicate feelings and needs is something to consider. (links tofeelingsandneedsinventory resources from the Center for Non-Violent Communications)
How do we apply this process to our business?
How do we empathize with our clients now and always?
How do we use needs analysis questions to help us go deeper?
Are there new ways they might require our service? Is their need for our service gone?
Finding answers requires developing trust, asking thoughtful questions, and listening deeply to gain insights needed to best serve customerswhere they are, during this unprecedented time.
Taking the time to develop pertinent and thoughtful questions and taking time to listen deeply to the responses will help us to move forward, while forging deeper partnerships. See our free download on our downloads page A Guide to Needs Analysis Questions in Difficult Times.
Non violent communications:
Marshall Rosenberg on Empathy, Inventor of Non-Violent Communications and author of thebook,Non-Violent Communications, A Language of Life
This video of Dr. Rosenberg expresses the Non-Violent Communications way of sharing empathy
Author and Scientist, Helen Riess on Empathy, describing her book and the science of The Empathy Effect.
Brene Brown on Empathy, explains difference between empathy and sympathy