Empathy is generally understood as “putting yourself in their shoes.” Here’s the problem with this, it doesn’t (always) work.

I use the word “empathy” with people a lot. I think it’s a great way to help people get better at understanding others. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a big step to creating powerful connections and relationships that matter… but there is a better way to establish great connections and relationships.

Remember What Caused a Similar Emotion

If your friend is reacting emotionally over something, remember a time when you reacted the exact same way. Trace back your situation that caused that emotion. You’ll remember why you had that emotion. Then you can better understand why your friend is having that emotion.

Say your colleague at work has been really sharp tongued as of recent. They have less care in the way they speak, they are a little more blunt than usual, but these days it doesn’t come with the chuckle at the end or the smile that dulls the blow. They seem agitated.

Remember when you went through a period of agitation. What caused it? What caused you to become more curt with your words? Find that why, and you’ll be able to better understand your friend, and, help them better. Asking caring questions is great too.

Say your ‘tough daughter’ of 16 is weeping and wailing over a lost stuffed-animal that she got at Disney only a few years ago. It seems odd that she’s taking it this hard. It’s out of character.

Remember when you weeped and wailed (or close to it). Ah, it was when you lost your mother. She was close to you. You loved her deeply. Maybe your daughter had some deep love of the moments of purchase of that plush, or maybe you don’t know why. Maybe, she just deeply cared about what it meant to her. You can use this as conversation and sharing your story to her in this time. Asking caring questions helps too.

Empathy is the assumption that you understand someones position given that you’d respond exactly like them in that situation. This often isn’t a great assumption.

It’s the emotion that matters in moments that need empathy. Connect with people’s emotions and speaking to the emotion is far more important than speaking on the event. It’s the human that’s hurting. Situations come and go. And, the situations always turn out ok anyway.

The person is the one who needs you. Go deeper than just putting yourself in their shoes. Go to the emotional level. That’s where deep connections are made.

On a productivity note: Deep connections help build better products.

All the best,