Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Another Take on Empathic Inquiry

Darya Rose - a follower of Ramit Sethi, recently blogged about her efforts to learn to effectively influence others. It sounded a lot like advice on how to interview empathically, so I've edited it a bit to reflect that idea;

Step 1: Listen deeply for the emotional undertone of what someone is saying.

To understand a person's motivations you need to understand their emotions. Behind the words are deeper motivations. Your goal is to figure out what they are.

To uncover their hopes, fears, and dreams, listen for the emotionally loaded words; signs of joy and fear, frustration and hope. Pay attention to the words they use. Note the tone in their voice and their body language.

Sometimes people are straightforward in expressing their feelings. They'll say things like; “I’m afraid I’ll put in all this effort and still fail.” (Fear of failure is extremely common, and being able to recognize it essential.)

It is often helpful to ask additional clarifying questions like; "How did that feel?"

Generic statements, ones that start with “I know I should…”, “I don’t have time…”, or “I don’t like (insert any broad category or action)…” often imply that there is a fear or aversion of the subjects which they are avoiding.

Using words like “always” or “never,” can obscure an invisible script that reflects a hidden emotion. Continue asking “why?” and "How did that feel?" until you get an answer.

Step 2: Try to identify the core emotion

Once you think you have a good idea of someone's emotional state, test your hypothesis by asking a validating question about that emotion, for example, if they sound frustrated;

“Wow, that must be incredibly frustrating. Why do you think that is?”

If you are right, they will typically respond with an affirmation; "Yes, I do feel really frustrated, because..." 

Step 3: Relate to the emotion to show understanding

Once you’ve discovered the core emotion, show that you can relate to the feeling. There are several ways you can do this:


Sometimes simply repeating back or “mirroring” the emotion is enough to demonstrate your understanding.

This can be incredibly effective. If you’re new to empathetic communication, this is the perfect place to start practicing. Once you see how effective this technique can be it gets easier to use it in everyday conversations:

Being vulnerable

Sharing an experience you’ve had that evoked a similar emotion is also an excellent way to show your understanding. This is called vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a more advanced form of empathetic communication and by far the most effective. Everyone has stories and emotions that relate to those of others. From the listener’s perspective the more you share, the more you care.
Validating Emotions

Another way to show your understanding is to validate the emotions by explaining with logic how you can see their point of view.

"Thinkers" can be quite good at this, since it plays to their natural tendency to be rational. The major difference is the focus on the emotion rather than solving the problem.

This technique works even if you disagree with the other person’s analysis. Explaining that you understand how they came to their conclusion can create the necessary emotional connection.

Step 4: Withhold judgment

If you’re a Thinker, chances are you thought you knew what the person’s "problem" was within the first few moments of the interview. It is essential to withhold judgment of the other person’s actions, feelings or goals, so that they can be revealed in a safe environment..

If you wish to be a helpful and effective Design Thinker, resist the urge to rush to judgment.

Step 5: Build!

Once you’ve listened carefully to the other person’s situation and demonstrated your understanding of their emotions without expressing judgment, you are ready to move onto the next phase; Rapid Prototyping, aka; Building and Testing

Empathy takes practice

Learning to interview empathically if you’re not a naturally emotional person can be very difficult. Learning to be more empathetic can feel like learning a new language. You train your mind to listen carefully for hidden emotional meaning, translate it internally, then formulate the appropriate response.

The challenge is to start practicing empathetic communication in everyday life. If empathy doesn’t come naturally to you, strike up a conversation with someone and simply listen for how they are feeling about the topic. Ask questions to try to get to the core emotion, and resist giving advice. It may be difficult but it's worth the effort and significantly enhances your chances of coming up with a solution to a real need.