Here’s how to show empathy

Two business people shaking their hands outside the office building

Many of the leaders I coach are so focused on their work, and the attainment of goals, that they forget to “see” the people delivering the results. Others say they are cold, aloof, uncaring or worse – scary, brutal, a jerk to work with. Yet, typically, it’s a lack of attention to the skills of interpersonal relations that’s the problem. Layer on natural introversion and a desire to stick-to-the-facts, and you can see how some successful business leaders end up with only reluctant followers.

A psychologist and wellness coach I know has coined a smart and simple way to conquer emotional eating: Notice, Name, Nod and Needs.* These are the steps to treat oneself with empathy and kindness.

As I read through her advice, it felt like a good way to remember how to show empathy toward others too!

Let’s look at Notice, Name, Nod and Needs as it applies to showing empathy. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is not sharing your story in an attempt to create camaraderie. Empathy is not taking on the emotional burden of others.

Empathy is being open to another person’s experience – both the facts of it, and the emotional impacts on them. When you demonstrate empathy, the other person feels validated and supported. Even if you hold opposing views, even if you have never experienced what they are going through, you can be empathetic.

Notice:  What is the emotion or feeling behind the words? Look at body language: stance, tone, eye movement, facial expressions. Listen for key words and watch when energy surges and wanes.

Name: Make an educated guess as to what the feeling is, for the person now: “I can hear you are disappointed.” Or, when they are talking about a past event: “That unexpected conflict in the meeting must have been frightening for you.”

Nod:  Always check in on your guess. Allow the other person to confirm: “Yes, I was frightened.” Or, let them correct you: “No, I wasn’t frightened really. But when I think of it now I am a little concerned that I didn’t see it coming and realize the danger.”

Once the actual feeling/emotion or inner experience is shared, give a Nod by validating it. “That’s perfectly normal.” Or “I can see that you’d feel that way.” or “Lots of others might say the same.” Or even a simple, “Oh, I see that’s how it is for you.”

Needs: The final step to empathy is to check if the other person has a request to make of you. Offer your support by asking if there are any needs that you could fulfill. “What would you like from me?” is a good start. Offering options is good too: “Would you like me to explain the history of the politics of that issue, so that you feel more prepared going into the meeting?”

Leaders who are looking for a way to improve their interpersonal skills can start with showing empathy. Remember: Notice, Name, Nod and Needs. Try it out.

*Thank you to Dr. Deb Thompson, clinical psychologist and Master Integral Coach at Your Nourished Life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.