“REMEMBER THAT THE GOAL IS TO FIND THE BEST ANSWER, NOT TO GIVE THE BEST ONE YOU HAVE.”
– Ray Dalio, Hedge Fund Manager & Philanthropist –
Humans are tricky. We can think one thing, but say another. We can start a fight, when all we really want to do is love. How might we improve our communication in hopes of solving our problems?
In his world-wide bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie outlines a concise means of doing just what the title offers. One of his first instructions involves a discipline and virtue that takes practice and patience:
Now, inspirational memes and quotes abound on the topic of empathy. But, how many of us actually practice it? Empathy is the ability to truly understand another person’s perspective that is different than our own, without necessarily agreeing with it. This act of authentically understanding lays the foundation for effective communication to commence. Unfortunately, too few of us know what empathy is, or how to improve our use of it. “The biggest deficit, that we have in our society, and in the world right now,” said President Barack Obama, “is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the work through their eyes.” For a brilliant look into what some of the greatest professional and scientific minds are discovering about empathy, give self-development blogger Shane Parrish’s well-written article a read (19-minutes).
Most often, we base and create our solutions out of a Me mindset. But, news flash: if you haven’t noticed yet, you share this place called Earth. Because we share it, win-win solutions are a must for us to keep growing. When used effectively, empathy can save hostages, merge multi-million dollar companies, get you a raise at work, repair friendships, and even get your kids into bed on-time.
Enough exposition. Let’s get to the steps.
5 STEPS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
STEP 1: LISTEN
If you’re truly listening while someone is talking to you, you should be able to almost verbatim repeat back to them what they said. Doing so communicates one thing to the other person: you care about them. Boom – your bridge for effective communication has been laid. (NOTE: This is not waiting for your turn to talk. For the purpose of this exercise, expect to not share your opinion at all. Impatience pushes us to get our thoughts out, which also robs us of our ability to effectively listen.)
STEP 2: CONSIDER
Once you’ve truly heard what another person has to say, take a moment to really think about what they’ve said. It’s that “put yourself in their shoes” moment. When you sincerely do that – and you’re the authority on whether you are or not – it enables you to think more creatively and with a more open mind.
STEP 3: REPEAT
Once you’ve considered the truth the other person has shared, repeat back to them the last word or few words to demonstrate that you are, in fact, listening to them. Doing so says, “I am with you, not against you.”
STEP 4: LISTEN AGAIN
You’ve just repeated the last few words of what the other person said. In doing so, odds are that they will say something along the lines of, “yeah” or “that’s right.” This is confirmation that you are indeed with each other, not against each other.
STEP 5: CONTRIBUTE
Once you’ve established enough of a rapport through repetitions of steps 1-4, it’s time to bring your bricks to the bridge you’re building together. Because you’ve established that you truly understand and care about the other person’s point-of-view – regardless of whether or not you agree with it, they are now more willing to return the generous behavior you gave them: empathy. So, having heard their thoughts, what are yours? Now’s when you share them.