Empathy can be personal but it shouldn’t be selfish.

In my article Experience we explored the idea of deepening empathy by finding shared experience. When we find commonality in our experience it helps us to feel the emotions as though they were our own and respond accordingly.

It’s about us. But it’s also not about us.

Yes it’s a paradoxical statement. It’s useful to connect an experience to you but you can’t make it about you.

In The Trusted Advisor, David Maister outlines an equation for trust:

T = C + R + I / SO or Trust = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self-Orientation

A high numerator score (credibility, reliability and intimacy) builds trust. A high score in self-orientation destroys it.

Put simply the more we make it about us, the less we build trust. I would suggest that self-orientation can have an equivalent impact on empathy.

High self-orientation is waiting for an opportunity to make the conversation about me. Low self-orientation is consistently looking for ways to make the conversation in service of you.

Consider how something can be less self-orientated and still personal by making small adjustments to our language:

  • From:I know what you’re going through because I went through something similar.
  • To:From my own experience I understand how (insert emotion or context) could affect someone, I’m sorry this has happened to you. I’d like to better understand how this has made you feel?

Vulnerability evokes vulnerability. When we share our story, we give others permission to do the same. We shouldn’t shy away from sharing personally where it’s helpful because our shared experiences can deepen empathy.

You can talk about you, just don’t make it about you.

A question to reflect on:
“Who benefits by me sharing this right now?”