Emotional intelligence is a skill you can enhance with experience in the workplace, as well as in our wider lives. This ability can be honed through acting as a teacher to give training, through the experience of parenthood, and through leadership, whether in the workplace, in a sporting endeavour or in any other context where we take on the responsibility to give guidance.
By strengthening our emotional intelligence we can gain the ability to build better connections with others. Once again, this is of equal value in both professional and personal circumstances.
Whether in the context of our children, our friends, employees or leaders, It all comes down to empathy.
Empathy can seem like an obvious or easy thing. However, when we truly cultivate empathetic thinking, it can teach us how to react supportively in unexpected circumstances. Empathy prepares us with the reflexes and tools to understand others at times when it might be difficult to connect with them.
The crux of empathy is embracing the ability to understand and share feelings with another. Relationships are more powerful when they are built on understanding, due to the increased trust and rapport that comes from exploring your common ground with somebody.
If you have trust and rapport, you can understand motivations. This comes from being able to get into someone’s headspace, and understanding their perspective. This is different from ‘putting yourself in their shoes’ because, critically, you are still approaching the situation as yourself; instead we need to think about how that unique person feels.
Navigating around decisions and challenges becomes easier once we have successfully interpreted someone else’s thinking, and built a foundation of equal understanding.
Using empathy is a choice
It isn’t something that comes to us naturally. Humans have the instinct to solve problems and add silver linings to negative situations, it’s our reflex for optimism. However, it’s rare for a response to really fix an issue.
We are simply finding comparisons that are not useful, and collecting insignificant positives to improve our outlook, rather than addressing the real issue.
Kidlin’s Law states that “If you can write a problem down clearly, then the matter is half solved”, meaning that addressing and gaining clarity on an issue is often the hardest step.
When we attach silver linings and dodge the true problem, we are skipping this essential step to making things better.
Articulating a problem out loud can be just as effective as the ability to clearly write it down; it’s the reason Talk Therapy works. And so, we come back to building trust and understanding. In this way, we can provide each other with a space to gain that clarity.
The key to the process is building better connections.
So, here are our top tips if you’re working on ways to cultivate that:
Avoid using sympathy
Empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection. All sympathetic responses start with ‘At least…’. You can think of the difference like this: Sympathy is feeling bad for someone while empathy is feeling bad with someone. Yes, it can make us feel vulnerable to acknowledge we have ‘felt that way too’ whether that be depressed, afraid or stuck… But putting ourselves out there creates a common ground.
Take their perspective
Recognize that their perspective is their own truth, or what they believe to be true. Applying our own outlook or opinion causes a disconnect. It can be challenging to think from a perspective that differs from our own, but dramatically increased understanding and better communication are the results.
Stay out of judgement
We all have strong opinions and beliefs. It’s easy to respond to someone with your opinion, when being impartial is far more helpful and will help others feel valued. If we picture the situation reversed, it’s clear that if we feel judged we will close off. Avoiding judgment allows others to be more open and honest.
Gain an understanding of their viewpoint.
You could be sympathetic at the top of a pedestal, surrounded by all your biased opinions, or you could be empathetic by climbing down to the level of others. Experience what that person is going through, grasp the full picture and cognise how they’re thinking by allowing them to discuss their reasons and their lived experiences.