Empathy is a huge buzzword these days. Everyone's talking about it (including me), writing about it and encouraging it of their employees. Although I think it's great that people are seeing the value of taking the time and energy to truly understand others, I think there needs to be a better way to explain how to be empathetic in the moment and why it's so important.
Let's start with the "why" here. Why is empathy so important? Because it fosters a more collaborative environment.
Empathy is what forces you to stop what you're doing and listen to the person talking to you. It commands you to be thoughtful when responding to others. And it restricts cockiness; there's no room for dismissive behavior when you are truly in sync with another person's feelings.
All these things are important because when you're tuned into the people you're conversing with, you know how to talk to them. And maybe more importantly, you know exactly how to listen to them.
I discuss empathy from the eyes of a stutterer because that’s how I learned to be empathetic. Through my own struggles with constantly exposing my biggest insecurity, I could better understand how others’ felt in moments of great vulnerability. And interestingly enough, as I showed more and more people my greatest vulnerability, it became infinitely easier to meaningfully join conversations and share my ideas. Collaboration soon followed.
Silence kills collaboration.
And silence can come about in many ways. A person can choose to silence themselves out of apprehension or insecurity. We can silence people by ignoring them or being verbally dismissive.
But the worst way that we silence people is by not fully listening to them. We pacify them by hearing what they have to say, and then go off and do whatever it is we were going to do anyway. We give no explanation as to why we chose that route, and the other person is left feeling ignored and dismissed.
Who is going to want to chime in after that?
Empower others to speak, and the way you have conversations will change. Be patient enough to truly listen, and your thoughtfulness will be greeted with a productive discussion. Practice empathetic communication, and collaboration will flourish.
If you work with people in any capacity - in person, over the phone or online - you are a collaborator. Encourage positive collaborative behaviors by speaking up, and applaud others that do the same.