Many managers use empathy blockers without even realising it.
If an employee comes to you with a problem, do you typically say: "Don't worry about it.." or "you'll be fine.."?
Our instant reaction is often to offer sympathy. But this may prevent them from opening up to you. They may feel foolish by your reaction, or quietly angry that you don't seem to understand how important this problem is to them.
Once you are aware of the statements that prevent empathy, and you start using more appropriate responses, you may be surprised at how much better the conversation turns out.
To be more empathetic, practice "Active Listening" which involves reflecting back the words and the emotion expressed by the other person.
Use statements such as "You sound very.." "It seems like you are.." "So what you are saying is.." or simply "I hear you.."
Combine this with good body language so the person feels you are listening. That means maintaining eye contact, adopting an open posture so you are facing the person, avoiding any physical barriers such as desks and using appropriate facial gestures.
all, you need time and space to create conditions for empathetic
response. If you are being interrupted by phone calls or are clock
watching, the other person is less likely to open up.
When in conversation, avoid these empathy blockers:
"Look, just get on with it.."
"This is what you should do.."
"You are always complaining.."
"You are worrying over nothing.."
"You will be fine.."
"Wait until you hear what happened to me.."
"You didn't say that, did you?!"
"I am really surprised you did that.."
"You stupid fool..!"
Active listening is a skill that gets better with practice. At first it may feel uncomfortable, so try it out when the situation is not too tense or emotional. If you find it difficult to get people to "open up", you will be amazed at the difference once you use this skill.
Read our latest newsletter - Avoid the Pain of Employee Turnover - 3 Steps to Maintaining Business Performance or view our back issues for more concise tips on practical management skills.