#connection #empathy

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Social connection should be the top of our daily to do list because it is the foundation of our happiness. Researchers have found that the quality of our connections rather than the quantity is more important when it comes to relationships. Not shocking yet I fear in the world of facebook, twitter, and Instagram that we feel quantity is more important. We need to remember to make spending time with those who are closes to us a priority.

“Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” – Brené Brown

images-2Connection is our ability to forge meaningful authentic relationships with others. It is the essences of human experience and it gives meaning to our lives; connection is also the anchor to our relationships.

To have a quality and deep relationship we need to utilize our empathy and compassion. Empathy is not a “fuzzy” emotion; it’s a path directly to connectivity. Some people get empathy and sympathy confused. Take the next three minutes to review Brené Brown’s short animated video on the differences between empathy and sympathy.

Science shows us that we are hard wired for empathy. We have circuits in our brains devoted to understand how another person is feeling and to align with them. Sometimes these circuits are closed and need a mental nudge due to our upbringing, other times they are offline – especially when we are stressed.

images-2Actually, there are two types of empathy; affective and cognitive. Affective empathy refers to the physical sensations and feelings we get in response to another’s shared emotions. Cognitive empathy is usually called perspective taking and refers to our ability to identify and understand others’ emotions, needs, and perspectives.

To overcome the barriers to empathy we need to consciously humanize other people in our minds. Here are some thoughts on how we can do this:

images-7Tap into our inner child. Remember when we we’re little and felt comfortable being inquisitive? We used to find other people more interesting than we do now. What happened? Oh yeah…social norms beat it out of us! “Chris, it’s not safe to talk with strangers!” Curiosity expands our cognitive empathy skills. When we talk with people outside our usual social circle, we encounter the lives and perspectives different than our own. We can then experience another person’s needs and perspectives and we expand our worldly view.

images-8Look for commonalities rather than differences. Most of us move through life making unconscious assumptions, use labels to identify people, and yes, even pass judgment. What if we continually challenged our own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what we have in common with people rather than what divides us? If all of us would do this,  it would lead to a social revolution!

images-11Walk a mile in another’s shoes. When George Orwell returned to England in the 1920’s, he purposefully lived as a homeless person so that he could understand and experience what it was like to be a “beggar and a vagabond.” His experiences radically changed his beliefs, priorities, and relationships and provided him unique literary details for his book titled: Down and Out in Paris and London. He was able shift his views on inequality by walking a mile in another’s shoes through using empathy.

images-1Use Channel 2 Listening. Be present to hear what is really going on within another. Mentally trade places with the other person through listening. Ask questions around their perspective. What do they think? How do they feel? What are their ideas? To see, hear, and feel the feelings and needs of another person is to experience them in that very moment. Channel 2 listening is one of the necessary keys to tapping into empathy, the other is vulnerability.

Empathy isn’t only important for individuals to tap into, it is equally important for leaders and organizations to understand the power of its use. In our VUCA times we need to incorporate empathy as a key to business survival because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership.

So, how do we make better connections?

  • Make time. Set regular and reoccurring time slots for your most important relationships. Significant other, kids, family members, close friends. Release your expectations of who you believe they are or should be and remain curious rather than bring in past experiences and bias into your interactions.
  • Be open. Unpack that suitcase of past experiences and toss it. By being open, that suitcase will no longer be required. Are you the same person you were when you first met your spouse, friend, sibling, etc….? When we share your authentic self and can be vulnerable, we create deep and meaningful relationships. Share what has gone well for you but even more importantly, share what makes you human, your miss-steps and failures both small and epic.
  • Be honest about what you want and need. Share your expectations and ask for theirs. This is the number one way to divert disappointment in a relationship. As humans we are brilliant biological creatures but we are not mind readers. Additionally, we need to let go of any desire to be right and telling others what they should do. Accept people for who they are.
  • Give more than you receive. Loose the “what’s in it for me mindset.”  Give your undivided attention, your love, your positive words, your encouragement and your time. These gifts are more valuable than gold.

“What I know is that we’re all interconnected and that’s a really beautiful thing. We have links to everyone else in our lives and in the world. Different people have different journeys for different reasons. You can’t judge, but you can celebrate that there are connections everywhere.” – Jane Seymour

Keys to an Effective Relationship – Part III

imagesIs this dress blue and black or white and gold?

Scottish musician Caitlin McNeill posted a picture on her micro-blogging website with a caption – “Is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking out!”

The post went viral after BuzzFeed picked it up – it sparked a heated global debate. We all got exposed to this craziness in our national news. Really?!? Wow!

This is a great example of how our perspectives can skew our thinking and ability to be open minded. As I read numerous articles about the incident, I noted all discussions were focused around an individual’s thoughts regarding how they felt – not around a dialogue on why someone else thought the dress looked a different color.

images-3We’ve all developed a lens in which we view life. We interpret what others are saying or doing through our own set of past experiences, our culture, values, and beliefs about others, ourselves, and our world. Our minds are constantly making sense of our own world – forming opinions and judgments during every interaction.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” – Anais Nin

Picture yourself standing high on a mountaintop or flying in a plane. From this vantage point we can see things from a wider and less detailed perspective. It can be a varied and interesting perspective to help us understand more of the big picture. The same happens when we use Google Earth. We can zoom from our home’s street view to the view of our city, state, and country with just the click of a mouse. So how can we take the vantage point of being high on a mountain or using Google Earth to help understand another person’s perspective?

images-2We need to first seek to understand then to be understood; it’s Dr. Stephen Covey’s Habit 5. Do you remember this picture in his book?  It was an exercise to uncover if we see both the young beautiful lady as well as the old lady with a large nose and chin.

To understand another’s perspective, we need to understand why a person is thinking and behaving the way they are. What’s the best way to do this? Practice Channel 2 listening and asking questions. This gains clarity so we may obtain the vantage point of the other person’s perspective; to enter into their paradigm.

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To be clear, we aren’t looking to release our own perspective and understanding, this practice is to enhance our own perspective by adding another’s viewpoint. When we can understand the thoughts and actions of another and we can feel their motives within us we can start to understand their perspective. Feeling their motives doesn’t mean we agree with them but we now have greater clarity on their perspective.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Here’s a way in which we can help ourselves learn to understand other’s perspective.

Practice the STOPP method:

S = Stop and step back

T = Take a breath – feel yourself take a deep slow breath

O = Observe – What am I thinking? Feeling? Is this fact or opinion? Is it accurate? Helpful?

P = Pull back and put in perspective – Is there another way of looking at this? What would someone else see here? What is the Google Earth view? What meaning am I giving this interaction to incite this reaction? How important is this right now? In the future?

P = Practice what works – Lean on your values and beliefs. What is proportional with this interaction? What could the consequences of my communication and actions be? What is best for me? What is best for the relationship?

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes we need to remember put ourselves in another person’s shoes; remember that their background and experiences, which are different then ours, affect their perspectives.  We can also follow the modified golden rule – treat others the way they want to be treated.

Taking another’s perspective means trying to see things from their point of view. When we are willing and able to see things from another’s perspective, we can learn things we didn’t know before. These practices show a deep admiration and respect and they help to deepen the relationship.

Keys to an Effective Relationship – Part I

I enjoy reading, researching, and learning why people think, act, and behave the way they do. It’s an itch that never get’s the satisfaction of getting fully scratched! So in my attempt to scratch an itch regarding relationships, I’ve discovered that one of the keys to success is to have open, honest, and clear communication with our significant others, co-workers, families, friends, and neighbors. We need to use channel 2 listening, challenge our own thinking, be open to sharing our deep thoughts and feelings, and to be open to hearing differing opinions.

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imagesSo many of our woes in relationships are caused by our interactions within a relationship. Do we ever stop to think: What role did I play when communication went sideways? Did I allow my emotions to narrow my thinking and to slap my blinders on or even steal my intelligence? Did I make assumptions? And if I did, did I gain clarification that I really understood the other person’s perspective? Was I able to remove bias and past history from the conversation? Did I react with silence or verbal shots to state my displeasure with the other person? Okay, I’ll stop…you get the point!

After you read this quote by John Wallen regarding communication; please take a moment to let his message wash over you and consider the meaning behind his words. When I read this in context with some deep learning about effective relationships it really challenged my thinking.

We judge ourselves by our intentions. We judge others by their impact.”

This quote shook my understanding of the effect our communication has on others to its foundation. We judge another’s communication by the impact it has on us. We judge our communication by the intention of what we believe we conveyed. Wow!

To own that we create the impact we have on others is a huge paradigm shift for most of us. Judging another’s impact and our intention is like comparing apples to oranges. Both are pieces of fruit but they are very different. We need to accept that we create our interpretations, attributions, and feelings while communicating; they belong to us and reside inside of us – not others.

imagesIf we truly care about the people in our lives we owe it to them to get better at managing conflict and difficult conversations. I am guilty of not being so great at this. I have a tendency to allow emotion to narrow my thinking, not gain clarity of the other’s perspective, making assumptions based on past interactions, and to revert to silence so that I don’t say something I might regret. I vow today to make a continuous effort to improve in this area!

We all have both automatic and learned responses when we communicate with others. We need to be self aware of our defenses and recognize that some of the ways we learned to communicate when we were young no longer serve us well as adults. The more we can recognize how our past influences our present, the more we can experience the here and now and make real improvements to our communication.

This week’s post got massive and very detailed! In keeping with my promise to write each week’s post within the 500 – 800 word limit, I’ll be breaking the post into several sections. Next week, we’ll review ways in which we can set up the framework to building our self-awareness in how we communicate with others.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg