In our hyper-saturated media environment, where we are conditioned to make snap judgements, empathy isn’t often invoked as a skill worth cultivating. But as you begin to make your way through meetings and presentations, empathy is one of the most important tools you can hone, both as a speaker and as an audience member.
After all, we all know how hard public speaking can be. It’s nerve-wracking to get up and expose your potential weaknesses. But if we can approach a room with a willingness to share, receive and connect, we can find common ground and achieve our objectives more easily.
And empathy is important for yourself too. It’s a lot easier to improve if you don’t beat yourself up every time you make a mistake or don’t perform as well as you’d like. Being kind to yourself becomes easier, too, when you treat others with sympathy and respect — because it becomes easier to believe that your audience isn’t judging you harshly if you don’t judge others.
How do we cultivate empathy? It isn’t hard, but we often forget to deploy these skills. Try to remind yourself to focus on these strategies when you approach communication:
• Respect both strengths and weaknesses. In other words, give others (and yourself) the benefit of the doubt. Try to forgive a misused word or a forgotten data point. When you have an opportunity to give feedback, present it constructively.
• Use your active listening skills. It’s pretty hard to connect with anyone if you don’t listen. Take notes, put away distractions and ask questions. Really try to understand what you are hearing, and don’t forget to make eye contact.
• Spend some time anticipating what your audience wants. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Think about what they might want or need to hear from you. If you’ve laid the groundwork for understanding their point of view, you’ll be ready to really connect with them once you are in the same room.
Part of strong communication is building connections, and that requires a recognition that we are all human with highs and lows. If we can walk into a room with that attitude, our chances of walking out with an objective met, a successful outcome or a partnership forged are that much stronger.