I suspect there are lots that folks don’t know about me. We all have bits of unimportant, somewhat trivial tidbits about ourselves that might surprise people. For example, did you know that I am a Star Trek fan? I don’t think I would qualify as a full blown Trekee since I’ve never attended a convention, I don’t own a uniform, I don’t have Star Trek ringtone, nor do I have any pieces of memorabilia in my office, but I was pretty big fan of the show growing up. The original version with Captain Kirk was before my time, I had to play catch up on that one, but beginning with Star Trek The Next Generation and into Deep Space Nine and Voyager I was dialed in, but I digress.
On Star Trek the Next Generation there was a character, Deanna Troi, who was an Empath which meant she could sense how others were feeling. I seem to recall this skill came in pretty handy when they were dealing with hostile enemies who were attempting some sort of ruse that would lead the crew into danger. Convenient, right?
While my interactions aren’t generally of the interstellar variety, often I find myself in a situation where I do my best to channel my inner Deanna Troi. I have zero chance of actually reading the minds of the people I deal with on a daily basis, but I have found that leaning heavily on empathy serves me well. When I divorce myself from my personal point of view and assume the perspective of the person I’m speaking to I have found that it is nearly always productive.
I think this exercise takes Habit #5 Seek First to Understand then to be Understood one step further. When we practice true empathy we are trying to not just understand what the other person has to say, we are literally trying to assume the thoughts, feelings, and sometimes wishes, of that other person. Being empathetic means going beyond simply discerning the message and waiting your turn to talk; it forces you to ask yourself the question what would I do if I felt this way?
My friend and colleague Sandra Menxuerio recently shared an article on twitter (https://goo.gl/mSvBSN) that discusses four different definitions of empathy, the third definition is about the way you can imagine the world, or situation, from someone else’s point of view. This is the type of empathy I try to practice each day. When a teacher comes to me frustrated, a child comes to me upset, or a parent has a concern, I do my best to not just listen, but to assume their perspective. The article goes on to describe how empathy is not just part of what we say, but part of what we do and how we act.
Do you know what happens when we stop using empathy? Have you ever seen video footage of two rams smashing their heads together in an effort to establish their social dominance? Well, that’s pretty much the equivalent of a conversation between two people who have no interest in budging, no interest in trying to understand a situation beyond their personal perspective. Spoiler alert: these types of conversation don’t end productively, and at an elementary school they do nothing to further the growth of our students.
So, until we travel far into deep space and make contact with our Betazoid friends, I will continue to hone my personal empathic abilities, do my best to seek first to understand, and remain #conditproud.
Make it so!