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How empathetically fit are you?

To become strong athletes, we need to exercise every day. To become strong communicators, we need to do the same. In good news, we can train our empathetic muscles, just like we can train our biceps.

Empathy is vitally important in good communication. But what is empathy? And how can we become empathetic communicators? Empathy is a communicative skill which is based on social awareness, one of the four basic domains of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Even though it is the basis for any successful communication, empathy seems to fall short in our communicative practice, both in business and personal communication. Is this because we did never actively acquire this skill? Or is it because we are simply too focussed on our own well-being and therefore neglect the needs and concerns of the other?

Ping pong

We certainly all have experienced stressful inter-personal situations, such as heated conversations with colleagues, friends, or family members that form a rhythm of back and forth speaking, just like ping pong. In such situations - and it can get really bad in writing - we have probably seen ourselves obsessed with making our point and formulating our answers before the other person even stopped speaking. Another example of lack of empathy is when someone rejects our ideas and we perceive this as painful invalidation. Our default reaction in both situations is going into conflict.

Don’t go with your default reaction

What is needed here is a de-escalation strategy that is based on - empathy. A colleague and good friend of mine reminds me every week of the importance of this communicative skill. “When you find yourself struggling with someone in a specific situation, empathize with this person”, he tells me. “Try to put yourself into this person’s shoes - while staying connected with your self! - and find ten reasons why this person may react the way he or she does in this moment - and you will find it easier to accept the situation for what it is.” Clearly, doing it is more challenging than understanding how it could work. But if we see it as a daily fitness exercise and consciously work on it, we will start noticing a difference in our communicative behavior towards others - business partners, colleagues, customers, family members, friends. Start training your empathetic muscle today - it's worth the effort!

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