In today’s blog, we will focus on the third of five strategies great problem-solvers use to break through their challenges: adopting empathy. As a quick reminder from the first article on this topic, here are the five mutually-reinforcing problem-solving strategies that seem to underly the success of the world’s leading problem solvers: 

  1. Don’t accept the first description of a problem as the actual core issue
  2. Be curious about every dynamic of an issue
  3. Maintain an empathetic view of the world, to see through multiple lenses
  4. Ensure an agreed-upon definition of the issue is reached before any discussions on potential solution strategies
  5. Use storytelling to generate a compelling call to action.

Strategy #3: Adopting Empathy to Gain Valuable Insights

As a concept, empathy is somewhat of a cliché. Like most overused words there is real value at its core; the problem is that most people aren’t willing to put in the work to actually put the concept into practice. 

The opportunity for anyone willing to adopt a more expansive perspective is significant. Most notable is the ability to present similar information to different individuals to obtain more pervasive understanding and agreement. This improved agreement ratio leads to greater productivity and less conflict.

Another benefit empathy can provide is an increased understanding of the complexities involved in a challenge. Often we value certain challenges higher when we better understand the details. The same goes for another person or party seeing a different dynamic in a problem with greater clarity. Just because our background and experiences help us see one part of a problem more clearly than another person doesn’t mean it is more valuable. An empathetic discussion can help you gain greater clarity on topics you were less clear on.

A third opportunity in using empathy to solve your business problems is the ability to define the actual item of disagreement and compartmentalise it. Often we disagree at macro levels when in reality we agree on nearly everything but a few specific details. By carving these out, teams often have the ability to solve important problems and not involve the conflicting items. However, it is difficult to navigate the unpacking of these issues without adopting an empathetic approach to maintain open, productive dialogue. 

Despite the risk of empathy becoming a cliché, it is frequently being identified as the super-skill for humans as we move into an ever more digitally-interactive world. 

Quick Empathy Hack

When you want to create a good dose of empathy, practice asking yourself the following questions:

  1. “What would be required for a well-intentioned person to be taking the point of view they are?” 
  2. “What beliefs do they have that could be different from mine?” 
  3. “What is the actual concept/idea we disagree on?”
  4. “What are all the things we do agree on?”

Any of these questions can help you avoid judgement of the other person. This will give you additional space to identify viable and effective solution strategies that can work for both parties.

Enjoy the positive emotions and insights that come from pushing the use of empathy over snap judgements!

Need more advice on adopting empathy? Feel free to ask any questions by contacting me today.

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