Empathy is more than just the ability to feel other people’s emotions; it’s a conscious decision to choose understanding over assumptions. Kristen Donnelly believes that empathy is a muscle that can be developed and a worldview that can be lived by to create success in business and life.
Kristen is an award-winning, four-time TEDx speaker, international empathy educator and researcher. I spoke with her recently for my Live. Love. Engage. podcast to discuss the power of empathy, why she believes it is mandatory, and how it can help to foster better relationships.
About Kristen Donnelly
Kristen Donnelly is a passionate empathy educator, researcher, and leader in the field of inclusivity. She is an award-winning speaker, having presented at four TEDx events and is also a regular contributor to Forbes, Medium and Thrive Global. Kristen is the COO of Abbey Research, co-founder of the Community Research Institute, and is dedicated to inspiring and helping people understand the power of inclusivity and the beauty of difference.
Why is it important to foster better relationships through empathy?
Empathy is an essential part of building meaningful relationships. It allows us to be in tune with the emotions and feelings of others, enabling us to better understand their perspectives and connect on a deeper level. By fostering better relationships through empathy, we can create a more peaceful and harmonious world.
Here are 5 steps that Kristen recommends to practice empathy and improve your relationships:
1. Ask questions instead of making assumptions.
This is an important part of practicing empathy and understanding people better. Instead of jumping to conclusions about someone else’s thoughts and feelings, it is important to ask questions to learn more about the situation and the person’s perspective. This will help to ensure that you have a better understanding of the other person and their circumstances.
For example, in the podcast, Kristen explains how she and her brother took over their family business and decided to change the way disciplinary meetings were conducted. Instead of assuming the employee was out to do something wrong or was lazy, they asked questions to get a better understanding of the situation. This allowed them to have a dialogue and come to a resolution.
In a personal example, Kristen talks about her best friend who is a slower processor. Instead of assuming her friend was mad or didn’t like something, she began to ask questions to understand her better. This enabled them to be more agile in their work and get to know each other better. By asking questions instead of making assumptions, you can gain a better understanding of someone’s perspective and come to a resolution together. This is an important part of practicing empathy and building relationships with others.
In order to make sure that you are asking the right questions, it is important to consider the context of the situation and the person’s needs. If you are talking to someone who is frustrated or angry, it is important to ask questions that are open-ended and focus on understanding their perspective. For example, if someone is angry about a decision, ask them what their thoughts are on the issue. Listening to their perspective and understanding why they feel the way they do will help to build a stronger relationship and a better understanding of the situation.
Finally, it is important to remember that asking questions is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength, showing that you are willing to listen and learn more about someone. Asking questions instead of making assumptions will help you to better understand another person’s perspective, which is an important part of practicing empathy and building relationships.
2. Listen to understand, not to respond.
This is a key step to practicing empathy. This means actively listening to what someone is saying and taking the time to really understand their point of view before responding. It means suspending any assumptions you may have and being open to hearing and understanding the other person’s perspective. This can be difficult to do in the face of disagreement or when we’re feeling defensive, but it’s essential to practicing empathy. To do this, it helps to repeat back to the speaker what they’ve said in your own words to make sure you’ve understood them correctly. It also helps to ask questions to seek clarification and to understand the other person’s perspective better. It’s important to resist the urge to jump in and provide a solution or give advice. Our goal here is to just listen and understand, not to respond. By being an active listener, we can start to build trust and connection, and ultimately deepen our relationships.
Making an effort to listen and understand can also help to foster better communication in our relationships. When we are able to really listen and take in what another person is saying, we can start to form a stronger connection with them. This connection creates an environment of safety and trust, which is essential for healthy relationships. It also allows us to have more meaningful conversations and to better understand each other.
Listening to understand, not to respond, is a skill that can be cultivated and practiced. When we are able to set aside our own assumptions and biases and truly listen to what someone else is saying, we can start to develop a deeper sense of empathy. This can help to foster better communication and create stronger relationships in our lives.
3. Show respect and understanding for other people’s perspectives.
Empathy is the consistent, intentional decision to choose understanding over assumptions of yourself and other people. Recognize that every group you’re in is diverse. Even if they look homogeneous, they’re diverse. Every human is an individual constellation of their own attributes.
The process of understanding your own diversity is what we call emotional intelligence. Understanding kind of your own story, your own histories, your own everything, and then create an environment where everybody gets to show up on their own terms and then see where it goes. And that’s work. And that’s another thing, another example of something that’s super simple but really hard to implement. Understand that everybody is a person. Treat them accordingly.
4. Take responsibility for what you can change and release what you can’t.
This is a key principle of practicing empathy and can be applied to both personal and professional relationships. In professional relationships, it’s important to be aware of the power dynamics and to not make assumptions. Instead, take time to listen to the other person’s perspective and take responsibility for your own actions. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of what you can and cannot control. We cannot control other people’s decisions or reactions, so it’s important to learn to accept them and to focus on the things we can change. Taking responsibility for what you can change and releasing what you can’t is an important part of practicing empathy and will lead to more positive relationships.
Step 4 is also about understanding our own boundaries and limitations. Taking responsibility for what we can change means setting boundaries and being honest with ourselves about what we can and can’t handle. It’s important to be able to recognize when we need to take a break, or when we need to step back from a situation. Being able to set boundaries and honor our own needs is essential in creating positive and healthy relationships.
Releasing what we can’t control also means recognizing when it’s time to let go and accept things as they are. This doesn’t mean we don’t care, but it does mean that we accept that some things are out of our control. We can’t always change the outcome of a situation, but we can choose to let go and move forward with our lives. Practicing this kind of acceptance can help us to maintain our empathy for others and to create healthy relationships.
5. Have an open dialogue with those around you.
We can practice this by making sure to give people the space to express their feelings and perspectives. When engaging in dialogue, it is important to listen without judgment and to ask questions in order to understand the other person’s point of view. This will lead to a more productive conversation as it allows us to learn from each other and to create a better understanding of one another. Additionally, it is important to ensure that all parties involved in the dialogue feel respected and heard. By following these steps, we can create a safe and open environment for people to share their thoughts and feelings.
To make sure that everyone is comfortable expressing their opinion, it is essential to create a space of trust. This means that everyone should feel safe to express their opinions without fear of judgment or criticism. One way to do this is to provide a platform for everyone to have their own voice heard. This can be done through the use of a discussion board or by having a designated time for people to talk in a large group. Additionally, it is important to ensure that everyone is respected and their feelings are taken into consideration. This can be done by not interrupting when someone is speaking and by actively listening to what they have to say.
An open dialogue is essential for fostering an environment of understanding and growth. It allows us to learn from one another and to build meaningful relationships with those around us. By having an open dialogue, we can create an environment where everyone feels respected, heard, and safe to express their opinions. This is a crucial step in creating a more connected and understanding world.
Empathy is an essential part of fostering better relationships. It allows us to better understand the perspectives and feelings of others, which leads to more meaningful connections and more positive outcomes.
With these tips, you can start to build trust and connection and ultimately create deeper relationships. Believe in yourself and your ability to make changes in your relationships – you can do it!
I’d love to hear how you apply “Empathy Muscle Building” to get understanding, connection, and inclusivity.
Leave me a comment on how it went for you or drop any questions you want me to answer!