There is a fundamental truth that applies in every communication situation. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an organization communicating with its customers, a leader communicating with her team, teammates communicating with each other or a husband having a conversation with his wife. Clear and impactful communication starts with the understanding that we all want the same thing. Something that I have written about many times before, we want to be heard, cared for, valued and respected. The best communicators are empathic. They start behind the ears and eyes of the receiver, meeting them where they are and understanding the impact of their message.
In a recent interview I conducted with John Foraker, President of Annie’s, he summed it up well by sharing, “It’s all about connecting with people on a human level. If I can do that, and it works, there’s no better way to drive commitment, motivation, and great performance than to show people that you understand and respect them as human beings, that you want them to win and be happy.”
So, how do you become a more empathic communicator? There are many tools and techniques, from the art of asking good questions, to the skill of active listening, to the gift of presence. But, I’ll suggest a simple first step. Start by slowing down. Too often we rush to deliver our message. When we have a new product, we are quick to tell our customers about its features and benefits. When we need something done we tend to jump right to the deliverables. When someone shares a challenge, we go straight to helping them find the solution. Take a breath or two or three. Then ask yourself this question, “What would it be like to receive the message I’m about to deliver?”
That’s a simple but powerful internal question. Ask it and you may realize you wouldn’t only want to hear about features and benefits of that new product. No, you’d rather understand how it’s going to help make things better. Maybe you’d recognize that although you don’t mind doing what the boss asks, it’s always more fulfilling when you’re provided a better understanding of how doing it will impact the overall goal or mission. It could be that by asking the question, you’d sense that instead of jumping right in to solve the challenge that’s being shared, it would be nice to take a moment and acknowledge the stress that person might be feeling in dealing with it.
Just that pause and that slight shift help you to communicate in a manner that is validating, demonstrates respect and engenders trust. We think of communication in terms of the words we use, the message we deliver. But, that’s the wrong view. Communication is an exchange, it's emotive and alive. Clarity and understanding are dependent upon both the messenger and its receiver. It is the alignment of reality with perception. Regardless of how well-crafted its words or precise its thoughts, a message is only as effective as it's perceived by its receiver.