A few years ago, I was having my “walking” 1-on-1 with my mentor at my office parking lot. As we were walking and I was busy explaining the project issues and bottlenecks, we heard a loud honk behind us. We stopped and turned around to look at the driver when he rolled down his window and shouted at us, “THIS IS NOT A PARK! WATCH WHERE YOU WALK!!!”.
My instant reaction was a mix of anger and irritation, “Well, doesn’t he know that pedestrians have the right of way?” My manager looked at me, smiled and said, “It’s ok Deepa! Put yourself in his shoes. Perhaps he was having a bad day. Let it go.”
An incident that could have ruined my day otherwise instead ended up being the beginning of my journey to learn about being empathetic.
“Now, wait a minute,” you may ask, “Why do I need to be more empathetic? Why do I need to see the world through someone else’s glasses?” Well, dear friend, to be considerate of other people, understanding their needs and their experiences is an important skill to have not only in your professional life, but also in your personal life.
Did you observe how I said “Skill?” Yes, having empathy is a skill and skills can be learned if they are practiced.
In my interactions with my mentor over the years, I have learned a few things that made him such an empathetic person and I will now share with you three important steps on developing empathy.
- Listen more, talk less: There is a reason God gave us TWO ears and ONE mouth; to listen more and talk less. Think how you felt when you were in a similar situation. And if the experience is something you have not had, use your imagination – how would you feel in similar circumstances?
- Express your perspective: Once you experience the moment as if it were happening to you, let your emotions guide you.
- Don’t make assumptions: Assumptions are the enemy of empathy. We develop these preconceived notions that deter us from seeing and understanding the complete picture. Keep an open mind.
Am I the most empathetic person around? Not yet, but I hope to continue to follow the above “rules” in all “walks” of my life and be that person! And I hope you do too!
Written by Deepa Seshadri, a member of Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters