How to Be More Empathetic in Conversations

Empathy is the most important characteristic for healthy relationships. Here’s how to have more of it when you talk.
July 8, 2015

Empathy typically isn’t a trait that springs to mind when you think of professional relationships. But Gail Gross, Ph.D., a family, relationship and child development expert and the host of the PBS radio show Let’s Talk, says empathy is the most important characteristic for relationships, whether at work or with family members or friends.

“If you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, even if you don’t agree, then you can often see the issue from their perspective. This will then open the door for collaboration and communication,” Gross says. “If you are busy defending yourself, then you can’t hear what the other person has to say.”

Gross developed an empathetic process that can be used to improve all types of relationships:

1. When attempting to work out differences, meet in a neutral location, such as a conference room or restaurant. Do not meet in one party’s office because that puts one person in a power position. If the discussion is between family members, sit down together in the kitchen.

2. Set ground rules before talking: Neither party can use hurtful language or personal attacks.

3. Divide the time allowed for the discussion into thirds.

4. For the first third of the time, one person talks while the other person actively listens. Then for the second third of the time, the other person talks.

5. During the last third of the time, both parties work together to solve the problem. You don’t have to agree with each other, just collaborate on a compromise that has value for both people.

“At the end of the day, trust is based on experience,” Gross says. “By using empathy, you develop tremendous trust with your colleagues, significant other or children. The key to a good relationship is mutuality, with no one winning and no one losing.”

This article appears in the August 2015 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Emotional intelligence is marked by empathy. Check out the 7 qualities that define EI.

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