Empathy is felt through shared meaning.

The goal of communication isn’t just an exchange of words, it’s a transfer of meaning.

We want to know, “did you really understand what I meant?”  When we feel understood we feel seen and heard.

George Bernard Shaw famously said “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

My experience has taught me that almost every issue we see arise in leadership can be traced back to a communication issue and can more often than not be resolved through more effective communication. It is the fundamental skill for leaders (and humans). Much of the escalated conflict I see in leadership could have been avoided if we just allowed a person to feel seen and heard earlier in the process.

Our world is information rich and attention poor so it’s not surprising when our conversations trend a little shorter and our listening becomes a little distracted.

It takes intentional effort to have meaning-full conversations.

Here’s a few ways you can ensure you transfer meaning and not just words:

  • If you’re speaking and you don’t think you have been understood, CONSIDER how you could deliver the message differently to reinforce the meaning.
  • If you’re speaking and you think you have been understood, CHECK with the person to make sure. Have them repeat the meaning back to you.
  • If you’re listening and you don’t think you understand, CLARIFY don’t interpret the meaning. Ask more questions.
  • If you’re listening and you think you understand, CONFIRM by repeating back the meaning you heard.

As we reflect on this last series it’s important to remember that while empathy is a soft skill it’s by no means fluffy. It’s complex, demanding and strong.

If we’re going to elevate empathy we need to be willing to feel with, not just for the people we lead. This means:

  1. Dealing in the currency of emotion.
  2. Seeking understanding.
  3. Showing unconditional positive regard.
  4. Finding shared experiences.
  5. Making it personal but not selfish.
  6. Exchanging shared meaning.

A question to reflect on:
“What can I do right now to elevate empathy in my leadership?”