It all starts with listening.
The old saying that someone “doesn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is true in all aspects of life. This was taken from one of my newsletters and is also a small portion of the content that I cover in a course on building trust. One of the best skills you can develop to foster relationship development is listening and responding with empathy.
Empathy is a core principal in building trust, and trust is at the center of every worthwhile relationship. Many people confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is more about sharing a feeling. Empathy is recognition and acknowledgement that someone is experiencing feelings. With sympathy there is agreement. With empathy, agreement is irrelevant; it is simply the acknowledgement that is important.
Empathy is powerful because it shows the other person that you value them, that you can be relied on to be honest, and that you are making an effort to understand them. It is also a skill that is not difficult to develop; it simply takes a desire to utilize it. The first thing to do is to focus your complete attention on the other person. Then as you listen to them, concentrate on identifying the facts and their feelings. The third step is to clarify. This is point that draws it all together, because this allows you to really understand and allows them to know you are trying to understand. It’s as simple as responding like this: “It seems like the (situation) is frustrating you.”
A helpful example.
You never say to someone that you know how they feel. This is offensive and subjective. You say “seems,” or “appears,” or “looks like,” or something along those lines. The “situation” represents the facts you are identifying and the word “frustrating” is your attempt at understanding their feelings. The beauty of this type of empathic response is that if you are wrong about the feeling, they will simply correct you and then you will know exactly how they feel. They don’t care if you interpreted correctly or not- they only care that you made the effort!
There are two things to avoid in situations which require empathy. One is never give a dismissive response. A dismissive response is something like “You shouldn’t let that bother you.” The other is to not give advice or sermons. If you are asked for your advice, then offer it, but never do it in a sermon fashion.