Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Increasing empathy and trust, part of Communication Foundations (2013).
- Imagine someone in your office gets promoted, he isn't a personal friend, but you know him. What's the first thing you say to him? "Congratulations." Right? Easy. But what's the second thing you say? I learned this experiment from my mentor, Professor Sam Culbert, who says, "There's a single correct answer." I've done this activity many times in organizations, I ask people to write their answers anonymously. Typical answers are, "You deserved it." or "I'm so happy for you." or "You must be thrilled." None is the best answer.
Why not? Because they reflect the perspective of the person doing the congratulating, not the person getting promoted. Even responses like, "How can I help you?" as the second thing you say is easily seen as premature and self serving. Trying to get on his good side. After congratulations, Sam says, "Ask "an empathy question." You say, "Congratulations." He says, "Thanks." And then you ask, "What does it mean for you?" Go for empathy. Find out what he thinks and feels instead of making assumptions.
Maybe he's scared about it. Maybe he fears the additional responsibilities. Maybe he's anxious about harder work, or more travel, or concerned about his new boss. Remember, it's his promotion, not ours. And it's not just promotions. Empathy openings like this come up all the time if we'll notice, and they're golden opportunities to build trust and relationship that others miss. Here's what to do. To increase empathy, you want to get others on three different levels. Get the person, get their situation, and get their path to progress.
First, get the person. Show that you understand the person as a unique individual. Be genuinely interested in their goals, priorities, interests, needs, motives, strengths, development areas, and concerns. Show you're intellectually open to their thoughts, ideas, analysis, and logic. Ask, "What do you think?" "What's your take on this?" "I want to make sure if I'm following you, "tell me if I've got this right." Also, be emotionally open to their feelings, attitudes, passions, drives, and values. Just like in the "What's the second "thing you say" situation, seek to understand what they're experiencing and why they feel the way they do.
Ask them, "How are you feeling about this?" "What's at stake for you here?" "What's the most important thing for you about this?" However they respond, acknowledge the emotion, and help them feel felt. Simply say, "You sound really happy." or, "That seems really frustrating." They'll agree or clarify, either is fine, because it feels great to be understood. Or at least to know that someone's trying. When you do this right, the "Get the Person" stage, they say, or indicate with their body language, "You actually understand where I'm coming from on this." And that's what you're going for.
Second, get their situation. Show you understand the circumstances they're in, and the opportunities and challenges they face. Just like before, be open, interested, and demonstrative, this time about their situation. Ask things like, "What's happening?", "Who's involved?", "What's at stake?", What are their timelines? What do they need to overcome? Grasp the person's reality in a way that rings true to them. The standard of success here is that they say or indicate, "You actually understand "what I'm dealing with here." Now, that's a great place to be.
Now think about how it applies to you. How you value the people who make the effort to genuinely get you, instead of get something out of you, who really try to understand your situation without imposing their evaluation. These people stand out in a very positive way, and you can to with others. Plus, when you get the person and their situation, you position yourself to add even more value going forward. And that's the third Get. Get their path to progress. Now, this is not about jumping to solutions for them or pressing your answers and perspectives on them, it's simply encouraging their progress on their own terms.
You don't have to figure anything out for them, just show up as someone that genuinely wants them to make progress. This is so much more powerful than it might seem. Teresa Amabile, from Harvard's research, with Steven Kramer stands out. Studying multiple companies over ten years, analyzing thousands of journal entries, they found of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a work day, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. That's the number one factor. Check out their book, The Progress Principle.
Over three quarters of what people judge to be their best days were triggered by making progress. Over two thirds of their worst days were triggered by set backs. Be an ally for any progress, however small, it's big. Ask, encourage, offer to help if you can. They'll thank you, and you'll hear comments along the lines of, "I think I can do this." Get their path to progress. It's the best Get you can give at work. So, whether the person just got promoted, or it's just another day, and whether it's after the first, second, or tenth thing that you say to them, build empathy by getting the person, their situation, and their path to progress, and you'll get more appreciation, trust, and stronger relationships in return.
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- Managing the intent-impact gap
- Designing the content of your message
- Improving vocal delivery
- Adjusting your body language
- Being politically savvy
- Listening to what's said, what's unsaid, and how it's said
- Increasing empathy and trust
- Overcoming anxiety<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.