Reflection and Empathy: Two Sides of effective oral Communication
Reflecting is the process of paraphrasing and restating both the feelings and words of the speaker. The purposes of reflecting are:
- To allow the speaker to ‘hear’ their own thoughts and to focus on what they say and feel.
- To show the speaker that you are trying to perceive the world as they see it and that you are doing your best to understand their messages.
- To encourage them to continue talking.
Reflecting does not involve you asking questions, introducing a new topic or leading the conversation in another direction. Speakers are helped through reflecting as it not only allows them to feel understood, but it also gives them the opportunity to focus their ideas. This in turn helps them to direct their thoughts and further encourages them to continue speaking.
Two Main Techniques of Reflecting:
Mirroring is a simple form of reflecting and involves repeating almost exactly what the speaker says.
Mirroring should be short and simple. It is usually enough to just repeat key words or the last few words spoken. This shows you are trying to understand the speakers terms of reference and acts as a prompt for him or her to continue. Be aware not to over mirror as this can become irritating and therefore a distraction from the message.
Paraphrasing involves using other words to reflect what the speaker has said. Paraphrasing shows not only that you are listening, but that you are attempting to understand what the speaker is saying.
It is often the case that people ‘hear what they expect to hear’ due to assumptions, stereotyping or prejudices. When paraphrasing, it is of utmost importance that you do not introduce your own ideas or question the speakers thoughts, feelings or actions. Your responses should be non-directive and non-judgemental.
It is very difficult to resist the temptation to ask questions and when this technique is first used, reflecting can seem very stilted and unnatural. You need to practice this skill in order to feel comfortable.
Reflecting Content, Feeling
The most immediate part of a speaker’s message is the content, in other words those aspects dealing with information, actions, events and experience, as verbalised by them.
Reflecting content helps to give focus to the situation but, at the same time, it is also essential to reflect the feelings and emotions expressed in order to more fully understand the message.
This helps the speaker to own and accept their own feelings, for quite often a speaker may talk about them as though they belong to someone else, for example using “you feel guilty” rather than “I feel guilty.”
A skilled listener will be able to reflect a speaker’s feelings from body cues (non-verbal) as well as verbal messages. It is sometimes not appropriate to ask such direct questions as “How does that make you feel?” Strong emotions such as love and hate are easy to identify, whereas feelings such as affection, guilt and confusion are much more subtle. The listener must have the ability to identify such feelings both from the words and the non-verbal cues, for example body language, tone of voice, etc.
Simply stated, empathy is defined as the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives. As a naturally empathetic person I never really paused to consider this personality trait as a professional asset. However, as I began to reflect on the fabric of my current business relationships, I realized that my natural, empathetic communication style has been a major factor in the majority of my most successful, meaningful, and profitable business relationships.
“Empathy is the #1 soft skill that you can develop.” – Forbes Magazine
There seems to be no coincidence that empathy can be directly associated with the ‘hard skill’ of Customer Knowledge, as it applies to taking a customer-centric approach, understanding the needs of the customers, and tailoring products and services to fulfill them. In my own experience, having an empathetic approach to my communication style has served me extremely well throughout two decades of leading and directing small-large, teams and organizations.
Could a shift in the way that you view this soft skill benefit you? I challenge you to ponder how applying a dab of this ‘mystical’, relational tool could positively benefit your business communications.
Here are a few suggestions that may contribute to a more empathetic approach…
Develop Your Self-Awareness
Communicating with others in a way that reflects more empathy requires you to have a heightened level of self-awareness. What is your natural disposition, and how does that translate to others during interactions? How you are perceived, oft times determines how you are received; thus, having a thorough understanding of ‘where’ you are mentally and emotionally during interactions, is vital.
Smile and Greet Others With Genuine Enthusiasm
Your smile (or lack thereof) is one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal communication! Smiling and greeting others with genuine enthusiasm will contribute to you appearing to be more approachable and open by other’s that wish to share their ideas or concerns with you. Research has shown that the act of smiling is contagious! Personally, I find it EXTREMELY difficult not to return a bright, genuine smile from anyone…including my 10 lb, miniature Schnauzer! Additionally, other studies have concluded that something as simple as seeing a friend or family member smile can involuntarily activate the muscles in your face to make that same expression, without you even being aware of it! Crazy, right? Time to work on your ‘smile mojo!’
Lead the Way
Take the lead during initial conversations with prospective connections, clients, colleagues, etc., and communicate with confidence, professionalism, and an awareness for the setting, that you might properly adjust your tone, and style of your approach. The Invitas Group has so accurately written, “Conversational leadership emphasizes keen attention, self-discipline, and a certain kind of artistry in engaging and communicating with others.” We must lead others through conversation with ways that are engaging; dismiss ‘small-talk’, in favor of insightful and meaningful exchanges, in order to establish authentic dialog.
Remember Other’s Names
I admittedly struggle with this one, but there is something quite special about a new acquaintance who remembers your name at your next meeting! When I am remembered by-name, I feel as though our previous interaction was significant and memorable, and that is how I desire others to feel when they depart from me!
Listen, and Show Sincere Interest
Actively listen in conversations, and ask thoughtful, open-ended questions to provoke thought, and generate good dialog. Great initial conversations can be inspirational, and plant the seed of a long-term business interest. Take time to listen to customers, employees, managers and stakeholders; quite often, it is their ideas that develop the pathways to future success. Additionally, as you are conversing with others, take note of their body language; much of what we communicate with one another is non-verbal. Signs of irritation, offense, and disinterest are sometimes subtle, but rarely undetectable, as are signs of interest, curiosity, and excitement.
Advocate for Other’s Needs
This is an area in which I feel that having an empathetic disposition truly makes a difference! From a service provider perspective, we are called upon to fulfill the wants, needs and desires of our customers, but the true value of our service is hidden within their ‘customer experience!’ How does the customer feel, when they are in receipt of our services, and what impression are they left with in conclusion? How they feel can sometimes be the determining factor of their decision to do business with us again; therefore, we should continually strive to focus on providing, dynamic, flexible, solution-based services to our customers, that not only fulfills their requirements, but demonstrates an understanding of the challenges or exposures they may be experiencing. This approach communicates that we are not only concerned with just the monetary value of their business, but we are also concerned with their success and satisfaction with our products and services.
Find Common Ground
Connecting with others on a personal level, possibly through a shared interest, hobby, or personal anecdote, may ultimately contribute to a deeper connection. It is amazing to watch how others truly unfold when they begin to speak about the things that they are truly passionate about, including family, friends, travel, dreams, or life-long aspirations. In those moments, capitalize on sharing in their enthusiasm; take the joyride, in reflection of what makes them happy!
Judge not, lest ye be judged…or something like that? Reserve your judgment, and cultivate healthy respect for the diversity found within the thoughts, views, and opinions of others. Resist the urge to let your personal biases cloud your professional judgment, or cause you to dismiss the value of another’s perspective/contribution. We all have something unique to offer.
My Father used to say, “Endeavor to leave people better than how you found them.” I understood that to mean that as I encountered others in my life, it was my personal responsibility to actively contribute to them in a positive way. In the professional realm, we can positively contribute to each other’s growth and well-being through encouragement, and constructive feedback. These important contributions need not only be reserved for times of low morale, discipline or correction; this method of sharing can be applied liberally, generating an exponential return on investment!
Share Professional Resources
This is another powerful way to communicate an investment in others. Sharing your professional resources may involve sharing a contact, providing a referral, facilitating an introduction, becoming a mentor, or simply sharing the gift of your insight with someone. Sharing your resources also communicates the traits of humility, and generosity; never forgo the opportunity to exercise these two very important traits!