One of my sons sees pretty much only the “tree”, and the other one can only see the “forest”. When they fight, they claim the other is just not listening. They talk past each other and get very frustrated and irritated with one another. It’s tough having two sons who see reality so differently.
While siblings often get upset with each other for “not listening”, this scenario occurs in all other types of relationships as well. As a father, or as a manager, or as a friend, understanding the “forest” and “tree” perspective can help overcome these impasse in arguments.
The first thing is to get people to understand that our brains work differently. Then, one needs to help them see things from the other person’s perspective — empathy. If people would just stop, breath and take a second to see the other person’s point of view, the world would definitely be a better place.
Now, if you have history with this other person, like in the case of my sons, then empathy gets more difficult. All the past frustrations are conjured up at a mere start of a disagreement and now each is completely convinced that the other person isn’t listening even before fully understanding the issues at play. There is no effort at empathy because “it’s happened before and I’m not going to let him get away with it again (whatever that is).” Ever hear a cranky couple snipe at one another before one full sentence comes out from either of them?
So, if you are caught in the middle of a conflict, recognize that history affects our philosophical, as well as emotional, reactions to other people. Ask yourself why you may be reacting so negatively to this situation? Give the other person the benefit of the doubt (at least a few times). Then, realize that our brains work differently. Maybe the other person isn’t plain evil, but they may just think differently. Then, there needs to be an honest effort at empathy. That is where a father or a manager can help — in facilitating that empathy.
It’s never easy though.
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In the last post, I emphasized EMPATHY for a successful negotiations. Today, I want to take that further to say that “empathy” is important in almost all forms of human interaction. DDI Global, a leading management training group, identifies five key principles to effective communication with your employees:
- Maintain or enhance self-esteem
- Listen and respond with empathy
- Ask for help and encourage involvement
- Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale
- Provide support without removing responsibility
As I’ve tried to incorporate these key principles into my daily interactions, I’ve received the best feedback from the first two principles. These two are applicable regardless of who you are communicating with, and can be used everyday.
Maintain or Enhance Self-Esteem: People need to feel respected and have a sense of self-worth. When they do, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work. When maintaining or enhancing self-esteem, make sure to be specific and sincere. Don’t leave any doubt in people’s minds – make sure they know exactly what you’re recognizing. Sincerity is also critical. People can quickly spot false praise, so don’t offer a complement if you don’t honestly mean it.
Listen and Respond with Empathy: Listening increases your understanding of how others feel and is a powerful way to build trust and improve communication. It’s only when you respond with empathy, however, that people know you understand both how they are feeling and why. The following tactics are effective ways to use empathy in communication:
- Defuse negative emotions
- Show others that you care
- Respond to both facts and feelings
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“Empathy” is one of the most important abilities a human can possess. It’s a trait that is not equally bestowed on each individual. However, each individual, in general, can train themselves to be more empathetic.
In business or personal negotiation, empathy plays a critical role. Most of us have heard that “in a successful negotiation, everyone wins. The objective should be an agreement, not victory”. To effectively reach a win-win scenario, one must first understand the perspective of the other side. Many negotiations are not collaborate because one side is too focused on its own objectives, and doesn’t value the other perspective. These are competitive negotiations, which may be acceptable when buying a car, but not appropriate in most work situations.
As an executive, I have some form of negotiations almost everyday with employees, clients, vendors, and partners. I go into a negotiation with a general plan for my objectives and what I believe MIGHT be the other’s main goals. However, I really try to listen, not only to the words, but also to the tone of the voice and body language. This helps me to empathize, or try to be in the other person’s shoes. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person’s perspective, but you have to understand it. And in understanding, geniune empathy will naturally occur, which in turn ususally makes the other person more empathetic to your views. Verbally acknowledging the other person’s concerns or issues as valid doesn’t weaken your position, but rather strengthens the dialogue.
Many times, I would go into a meeting somewhat angry about what I presumed were the position/motives of the other person. But if I’m honestly listening to them, I usually can empathize with them. Most people are reasonable, but our emotional reaction to incomplete information tends to be from a “worse-case scenario” perspective. We ususally believe the worse without adequate information. Then, we get emotional, which makes a matter personal, which leads to an irrational position.
Some empathetic ways to improve your negotiations are:
- Do not make the negotiations personal. Stay focused on the issue.
- If the other person is emotional or taking the dicussion personal, let them have their say, don’t cut them off. Most people will stop themselves if you stay calm and engaged.
- Repeat in your own words the other person’s point, it will help you empathize and show willingness to listen.
- Try to explain your objectives using some of their words, or from an angle of their perspective.
- Stay focused on a good win-win scenario, and resist temptation to be greedy.
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