7 tips to cultivate empathy

7 tips to cultivate empathy

7 tips to cultivate empathy 698 400 Use Design

Empathy can empower us at such deep levels and at the same time sounds like voodoo magic to some of us. Whatever the case may be, we are all hardwired for it.

Each and every one of us can tell the difference between an enthusiastic “Yes, I can”, a sad one, a surprised one or a determined one. But the real advantage lies in the different levels of empathy we can apply to it.

Here are a few tips that can help on the long road of empathy mastery. They are derived from Dr. Helen Riess acronym that uncovers some of the principles of empathy. She is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

E  Eye contact

M  Muscles of facial expression

P  Posture

A  Affects

T  Tone of voice

H  Hearing

Y  Your response.

First, if you pay attention to those clues, you would probably be able to decompose, at a deeper level, why you believe or feel that what you’ve heard is a surprised “Yes, I can”.

And with time and practice, you will start noticing patterns. It is like sharpening your sense, in a way. Don’t overthink it too much, we all are hardwired for it. You simply need the will to be empathic.

Eye contact — Notice them

The essence of eye contact is in noticing the other. So often we fail to be empathic just for the fact that we don’t pay proper attention to the person in front of us. When that happens, empathy is immediately discarded. So remember to keep your eyes open. It’s the beginning of any engaging relationship.

It’s clear that a growing number of interactions nowadays is moving towards digital channels, and makes this virtually impossible. The act of “noticing”, however, still matters.

Muscles of facial expressions — Read them

Every interaction triggers a physiological reaction in a person’s body and especially on the face. While we engage with them, they will inevitably give out clues through their expressions. For instance, surprise, fear, confusion, or excitement. Those will all allow us to anticipate people’s behavior and better understand their inner drivers.

Posture — Watch them

During any conversation, there is a posture each person will adopt. And it’s as important as the facial expressions people will externalize. Whether someone is sitting or standing, sturdy or unbalanced, moving or active. Those will tell us the state of mind of each person or even the position in which they see themselves. Do they feel in control? Are they insecure? These are questions that can be easy to answer if you pay closer attention and watch their posture.

Affect — Record what they tell you

People will sometimes also actively express their emotions. The behavior of someone may be a very conscious way of letting us know what’s going on, and how do they feel.

It’s easy to ignore this step because it sounds so obvious. But it’s important to absorb their expressed feelings, and acknowledge them throughout the whole conversation. By labeling someone’s emotional state early on in the interaction (e.g are they upset, excited, etc.), we will remain aware of the big picture and engaged during the conversation.

Try to exercise this empathy skill with anyone you know. In the beginning of a conversation, think to yourself, ‘how is that person feeling?’ The more you practice, the easier it will be to identify people’s emotions. Remember to keep all thoughts to yourself and avoid making people feel uncomfortable.

Tone of voice — Feel their words

Every sentence spoken by a person carries some meaning other than just the words contained in it. The tone of voice shows us what those words mean to people, and what exactly are they trying to communicate.

Telemarketers are known to smile over the phone to project a positive voice. That proves we can still ’see’ a lot with our ears.

Even if speaking over the phone, focus not only on what people say, but the pauses, sounds and nuances in their speech.

Hearing — Try to hear the “whole” person

Be curious, don’t judge what they are saying. Try to shut your inner dialogue, when reaction arises. You don’t want to add somethi&n, you want to ask more questions.

Your response — Accept your own feelings

In order to be empathic, we have to truly welcome the feelings of others. Naturally, we would unconsciously respond to other people’s emotions by mirroring them. However, our professional objectives and the willingness to be rational in order to tackle problems often stop us from really being empathic. In the end, we will only understand other people when we feel what they feel. While interacting with end users or customers, remember to let yourself be emotional too.

Personal interactions will always remain the ultimate form of communication between humans. Taking advantage of body language (facial expressions, posture, etc.) is also important for creating a strong bond with people.

Why not give a chance to face-to-face interaction? While any personal conversation will provide useful insights, being in an environment that will allow people to move around, having the choice to make themselves comfortable (e.g taking a sit, standing, choosing a posture) — may give you further possibilities to watch their behavior.

Try to open up more opportunities for personal interaction with your customers. Why not organize some interesting events, invite them to your office, run some field studies to get the opportunity to actually meet them? This may sound outdated, but will definitely pay off in the long run.

Again, don’t overthink it too much, just try.


Vivien Gauthier— Associé, Business & Design Strategist @ Use Design 

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