So far this week we’ve explored the benefits of empathy as well as the different types.  Today, we look at specific strategies to put empathy into action.   

I have the wonderful privilege this year of participating in the “Dragon’s Gap,” the Stagen Leadership Academy’s Advanced Leadership Program.  One section of program content focuses on “Rhythms of Relating” which builds upon the three types of empathy we outlined yesterday.

Rhythms of relating involve seeing a conversation as a rhythm where the goal is to deepen it as it goes back and forth.  There are three different rhythms.  We can think of them as three notes or three chords.  We can play them in any sequence or any order.   

The first rhythm is about the message.  We playback what we heard.  We ask: did I miss anything?  We practice “cognitive empathy.”  We aim to understand the other person’s perspective.  How they see the situation.  What they are feeling.  Our aim is that the other person feels heard.  Feels understood.

The second rhythm of relating is about our experience as the listener.  We pay attention to what we are experiencing and reflect that back.  The impact of what was said on us.  “What you’re saying is making me feel angry…”

“Emotional empathy” involves feeling what someone else is feeling and they can feel that we are feeling it. 

Then, we give the other person the freedom to respond to our feelings.  Think: I know what you said (first rhythm) and how I’ve been moved (second rhythm) which in turn may lead the other person to be impacted by how I’ve been moved.

The second rhythm requires us as listeners to be vulnerable.  We share our authentic emotions.  How we connect with what’s happening externally to what we are feeling internally, the outer to the inner.  The person inside of all that.

The third rhythm of relating entails a deeper level of curiosity.  “Empathic concern” involves a real desire for the other person’s wellbeing to improve.  We focus not so much on the content, but on the cares or concerns underlying the content. 

Third rhythm questions generate connectivity. We ask: “What do you most care about or what are you most concerned about here?  Or, what are you most curious about?” 

What the other person shares may also spark our cares and concerns.  A psychologist once said, “How much easier it is to listen to my client than my daughter where I have a personal interest in what happens.”  If appropriate, we may choose to share what is coming up for us as well: “What you are saying illuminates in me something I care or am concerned about.”

Three rhythms.  Three chords.  Three notes.  We can improvise and play in any order.


Reflection:  Think back on a great conversation I have had.  In retrospect, how did the three rhythms play a role?  

Action:  Look for an opportunity today to experiment with the three rhythms of relating.

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