I Do Not Play Well With Others! If that’s your motto, I’ve got some bad news. Everything in life is a relationship. The dentist you visit, to the grocery store clerk, a pet or the other cars on the road, there’s an inherent relationship happening all the time. While there can be many areas to work on in a relationship, such as negotiating conflict, learning how to express needs in a healthy manner, and the basics of how to play fair, an area worth understanding, cultivating and mastering the most is a little thing called empathy.
Let’s first define empathy. From Merriam Webster- Empathy is the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: The ability to share someone else’s feelings. 2 : The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Empathy learned early in childhood allows for adults who understand the world around them and how to interact with it. Children who aren’t taught empathy can become heartless adults, oblivious to the hurt and pain they create in others.
Why did it end?
What’s the number one reason relationships fail? Emotional needs aren’t being met. So if you’re a man, don’t think working harder, buying more stuff, going on expensive vacations or buying lingerie will fix the problem. If you’re a woman don’t think telling him what to do, acting like a two year old screaming and crying, or giving your best dramatic performance will change him. We all want the same thing here. That is to feel we are seen and being heard.
I’ve discovered a short route to empathy. And I can teach it to you really quickly right now. The more you practice the steps to empathy the better you’ll get at it and the more naturally and easily you’ll be able to step out of your world and into the world of another person. If you want to quickly shift your perception this is one amazing concept you must have in your arsenal.
There are four steps to mastering empathy skills:
Self-Awareness, Listening Skills, Curiosity and Self-Confidence.
You only have two places your attention can be. One is on you and the other is on something else or someone else. Do this exercise with me? In a moment I’m going to ask you to close your eyes and focus your attention on yourself. Notice your thoughts, any aches and pains? Are you hungry? Tired? Just notice… Do the exercise now. That was pretty easy right? Now, focus your attention outside of yourself and on someone else. You can do this by slowing down, pausing, making eye contact and listening to someone carefully. You can try putting your full attention on a book or a leaf, anything you want. Notice how you feel inside your body. Worries begin to melt away; social discomfort and performance anxiety no longer exist. Anger and frustration dissolve as a calm and peace roll over you like a beautiful calm wave lapping at the shoreline. Understand that you can only be nervous, worried, or angry and upset if your attention is on yourself.
Now, throughout your day practice intentionally shifting your focus from you, the ego, to outside of yourself and onto someone else or something else. Notice how you start to understand people and your surroundings better. You start asking questions that help you understand where someone is coming from, therefore allowing closeness, harmony and affinity. This one thing is a lifelong building block to ensuring success in your relationships.
Empathetic people tend not to judge another person but to instead attempt to understand them. Active listening skills, one of many listening skills you need in order to create harmony and peace, starts by one person, probably the one not throwing the temper tantrum, repeating back to the other person what they heard them say. This approach almost instantly stops the madness and starts to calm everyone down. Now you can take some time to listen to what the upset is really about. And you can think clearly! Wow, with no drama going on you can actually start asking yourself some questions too. Like, “what is this person thinking right now? What does this person feel right now? Is her anger towards the time you spend on fantasy football aimed at taking away something you find enjoyable, or is her intention to create more together time? Is his criticism of your inability to find your keys in the morning because the kitchen is still a mess from last night intended to embarrass you or to nurture you into being the best you can be? Taking the time to ask each other better questions based on what the other person just said in a calm way can help you achieve mutual acceptance and start creating workable solutions to the problem.
My cats are the funniest, curious little fur balls around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat and simply watched Big Bear as he cautiously maneuvers around outside, looking, sniffing, jumping, rubbing up against everything and anything in his path. If we human beings would only allow ourselves this luxury, half our problems in communication would be solved. Being curious about what someone else is thinking or feeling or wondering, is what separates the human species from all the rest. No other animal on the planet can directly self-reflect like we can. Curiosity makes us so much more interesting and interested in the world at large. Curiosity enhances the path to empathy. So have a little fun and get curious about what other people are thinking and feeling.
When learning to be empathetic, you have to like yourself first. It’s really hard to love and respect another person with all their faults if you don’t like yourself with all your faults. Empathy is about being patient, kind and ready to not always be right. Working on accepting your own life will prepare you for understanding others.
In our fast paced society, attention is something we, including me, don’t get enough of. These simple steps will help strengthen your ability to purposely put your attention where you want it, when you want it. As you practice being empathetic, enjoy the additional rewards that follow. Unexpected surprises await around every turn as you take this journey. Yippee Ki Yay my friend!
Communicating from the Heart,