Empathy and communication

“In politics, sincerity is everything. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” – Groucho Marx

I’ve talked before about the fact that effective communication has more to do with how you’re heard than what you say. One of the biggest problems we run into is assuming that everyone thinks like us, or at least that they should. I’ll forego the sermonette about the value of diversity of thought and how boring the world would be if things were like that. Bottom line: They aren’t like that. This means that part of effective communication is trying to understand how other people think.

What should you do to be a more empathetic communicator?

First of all, start on common ground and assume a common purpose. This means banal pleasantries to show that you, too, experience weather, followed by something related to what you’re working on. Don’t start off with religion or politics because they might have a different worldview from yours and 1) you don’t want to alienate them from you and 2) you don’t want to get into a discussion where your prejudgments about the kind of person you’re working with affect your ability to get what you need where goals are shared.

Second, listen. Some people reach out, some people want to be heard. Some can’t see where you’re going and others just don’t feel right about certain things. These sense metaphors for communication let you know 1) which metaphors to answer with to build rapport and 2) which metaphors to use if you want to convince someone of something.

Third, if you think the other person is an idiot, they may well think the same of you. You may both be right! But if you let transparent disdain for another person’s intelligence or ideas wreck your ability to work with them, there’s definitely at least one idiot in the conversation: you. So assume the best of other people till you have proof to the contrary and look for ways to engage with what they’re saying. If they have something to offer, awesome. If not, at least you haven’t made any enemies who might pop up and mess up other projects of yours at a later date.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about how to put yourself in another person’s shoes. But for now, keep in mind that when you engage with another person the quickest way to blow an opportunity is to win an argument you didn’t have to have. Think positively about the people you’re talking to and the prospect that you can get something done together and you’ll be on a much surer footing whether you decide to build a relationship or just get through the interaction before moving on to something better.

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