You don’t have to agree with a person to show empathy. You do need to understand.

Dr Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People elegantly (and famously) put it this way:

“If I were to summarise in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

We all want to be understood. One of the best gifts we can give our team is the willingness to understand their perspective before we rush to sharing our own.

For the people you lead, their perspective is their reality, regardless of whether you believe it to be true.

I’m reminded of this photo taken from two perspectives depicting the same moment that illustrates the concept well.

In my last series I referenced a conversation with Holly Ransom on my podcast in which she shared the advice given to her by a mentor – “just because your perspective is right, doesn’t mean it’s the only one“.

Whether it’s a conversation about conflict, politics, worldview, vaccination or any other form of hot topic, empathy cannot exist without understanding. In action, empathy means taking time to see the world through their eyes and from their perspective.

I once heard it described as ‘crossing the table’ to sit with a person and see their view of the world.

Here’s a few questions you could ask your team to get started:

  • Help me understand how this has impacted you?
  • What has been most challenging in this situation for you?
  • Can you tell me more about what happened?
  • Can you help me understand why this is important to you?
  • What makes this significant for you?
  • What did it feel like to be on the other side of this?

It’s about learning not necessarily agreement. It’s choosing to ask questions before making statements. Real understanding begins with curiosity and that’s a pathway to elevating empathy.

A question to reflect on:
“Have I taken the time to fully understand this person’s perspective?”