Building Empathy with Others

Building Empathy with Others

Empathy. I’ve discovered it’s a word that triggers lots of people. Let me say upfront, that I’m not talking about feeling sorry for people or letting them off the hook for bad behavior. Actions have consequences.

In the context of this “Bridging the Divide” video series, our focus is on understanding where people are coming from when they state their beliefs, thoughts, values or positions.

That’s the foundation for working together. It’s important if we want to solve the challenges facing our communities, countries & world.

Check out today’s video. Carlos Quintero has some great suggestions. Or, read the transcript below.

P.S. You can reach Carlos via his website:


JILL KONRATH: Hi, I'm Jill Konrath from What's Really Possible, and I'm here today with Carlos Quintero, the head of EKG Power out of South Carolina. EKG stands for what, Carlos?

CARLOS QUINTERO: Empathy, kindness and gratitude.

JILL: Wow, those are important skills in today's world, aren’t they?

CARLOS: They are. I came up with the acronym because I worked with many healthcare companies, and of course, they always think it's 'electrocardiogram.'

The idea here is to bring attention—and of course, kindness is such a big topic—but empathy has to precede it. So, EKG stands for empathy, kindness, and gratitude.

JILL: So “Empathy” is the one that rules them all, right?

CARLOS: That's where we begin, I think. Although somewhat interchangeable. People would say it starts with kindness. Or people could say it starts with gratitude. So, they’re all somewhat related, right?

JILL: Yes, they are. Okay, so what are the skills required for empathy? I know you've told me there's a lot of them.

CARLOS: There are a variety of ones. The one that I like most is called “reflective listening.”

JILL: Yes, that's an interesting term. Do you want to describe it? What it means?

CARLOS: How would I define it? Reflective listening is the application of both listening and high-level questioning to seek understanding with the person that you're working with. The intent is to have the person that you're talking to gain insight themselves.

Your objective in reflective listening is not to solve. Your objective is to listen intently. What comes to mind with that is passive and active listening skills. What do you think are passive listening skills?

JILL: Passive listening skills? To me, eye contact.

CARLOS: Absolutely.

JILL: (Who’s looking away) I should actually be looking at you as we're talking as opposed to—go ahead, Carlos. Keep talking. I'm paying attention to you. That doesn't do it, does it?

CARLOS: That's right.

JILL: Yeah. So that would be important. So, if I turned away from you like this, you might not think I was paying that much attention to you, would you?

CARLOS: No. I think posture is very important. Clearly. Body movement, right? Dedicated attention and trying to be neutral in your tone because sometimes your eyes and your posture give you away. So, the first part of reflective listening is called passive skills, and they’re essential.

The second part is what is called active listening skills. Active listening skills are everything from your tone to the things that you say.

The main skills are called 1) clarifying, 2) interpreting, and 3) summarizing. Clarifying, interpreting, and summarizing all three are essential.

JILL: So, in a regular conversation with a normal human being, do you have to think of using all of them? Or is there more?

CARLOS: Sometimes, all you need is clarification. The intent of clarifying is to basically try to understand the other person.

JILL: Okay?

CARLOS: And by clarifying, you allow them to share their story. And it helps you gain insight. When you clarify, you look at the who, what, where, when, why, how—and that's why it's so important.

The challenge of clarifying is that it can come across negatively if you’re too aggressively. Phrases like: “Well, what did you do that for? Why did that happen?” can be off-putting. So, you have to be very careful in your tone and when you're asking.

JILL: When you ask questions like that, some people will jump on you right away, thinking you’re starting an argument, or they’ll want to know why you’re asking.

I think one of the hardest things to do as a listener—if you don't agree with somebody—is to not jump in and to care what they're saying and really try to understand it.

Sometimes have a hard time doing that. I mean, sometimes I just want to say, “You’ve got to be crazy.” I know other people feel that way about me. But I think that's hard.

CARLOS: It is the reason it's hard. Also, it can come across as an interrogation, right? So clarifying is intended to learn. That’s the objective—not to problem solve.

The objective is to understand. And there are going to be questions like what issues are you experiencing today? Why is that an issue? Why do you feel that way? How did that come about? Can you tell me more?

So those are all clarifying questions and the objective is for you—as the helper—not to do the talking. It's for the other person to do the majority of the talking.

JILL: It's like if you really wanted to be good at empathy, you’d almost have to think about it ahead of time—especially if you know you’re going to be in situations where you don’t want to create conflict.

I’m thinking like maybe with a specific person or just in general where there is a difference of opinion. Or when somebody says something, and you want to have a conversation with them and hopefully accomplish something together in life.

But to me, I think I’d have to stop and really think about doing that—that it wouldn't come naturally to me.

CARLOS: Yeah, it may not come naturally, but if you're ahead, if your mindset is around learning, if your mindset is around the other person doing the talking, if mindset is about not being judgmental and not trying to problem solve at first, then that's very important.

Now, as we said earlier, these conversations include clarifying, interpreting, and summarizing. All those together can work, and then we can problem-solve if we need to.

JILL: But sometimes it's enough to just understand and make a person feel like you're interested in their opinion, their thoughts, their life and whatever else they're doing. Just the interest matters.

CARLOS: And many times, what happens when you clarify well, is the other person says, “I got it. I got it.” And that's often what you want, right?

Because they came to some insight as a result of your caring ways and non-judgmental questions. And suddenly an idea surfaces and that they hadn't thought about before. So sometimes that happens.

Let's talk about the second skill—interpreting.

JILL: Okay.

CARLOS: Interpreting works hand-in-hand with clarifying. The objective is for you to not just ask questions and be there like a bump on a log, just listening in.

The idea of interpreting is to try to say things in your own words like, “So what you're saying, Jill, is that et cetera, et cetera. Is that it? Did I get it right?” And Jill might say, “No, you didn't.”

JILL: Tell me more.

CARLOS: The objective is to interpret along the way. Clarify. You don't say clarify and interpret. Sometimes you can even start the process with interpreting. “So, what you're telling me, Jill, is this. Is that, right?”

JILL: (role playing) “Well, not quite. You're sort of close. I really meant this…” And that's how I might respond to you.

CARLOS: I might then say, “Let me clarify words…” even though we often start with clarifying. And then the truth is, there are times when you can even start with interpreting right away and then clarify.

JILL: It's not a rigid format. The whole goal is to understand and to see where that person is coming from. And I think it's when you do that that you can work together to address any of the challenges that you might be facing.

You may just get to know a person over time and learn what they think. But if suddenly you have to work together on a project or want to solve a problem in your community or something—you at least have the relationship to be able to do something like that.

CARLOS: And this happens with your children, with your spouses.

JILL: Yes.

CARLOS: In other words, instead of just thinking, well, it's a work thing. No, this is a life skill: clarifying, interpreting, and summarizing.

Let me shift to summarizing, okay? It may not be needed. Sometimes, maybe the other person is just rattling and rattling and rattling and rattling, and you decide to let him rattle, right? Because you may want him to continue.

You might say, “Okay, Jill, let me summarize what I heard,” and then you kind of summarize. And then you go back to clarifying.

So, sometimes summarizing happens after clarifying and interpreting, and that's normal. Clarify, interpret, summarize.

But you could have a situation where the person is heated and upset, and you want them to vent.

You might say, “Let me summarize what I've heard.” So somewhat of an interpretation and a summary, right? And then go to clarify.

The truth is that they're all interchangeable. The natural flow is to clarify, interpret, and summarize.

Although the beauty of this skill is that it's the foundation of empathy. It’s how you communicate to someone that you care, that you're interested in them, that you are sincere and that you're trying to build trust.

Those are the reasons why clarifying, interpreting, and summarizing are such powerful sets of skills.

JILL: Well, thank you so much. I think that was a good summary of what we've talked about. And it's just such an important life skill, too. It's not for just dealing with differences. As you said, it's an important life skill.

CARLOS: As much as I may practice the skills and know them and understand them and teach them when I've worked with others many times, I don't always do them.

JILL: Oh, no, don't do that. You mean you’re human, too? That is what you're trying to tell me. Right?

CARLOS: My wife reminds me.

JILL: Well, that's good. I'm glad you have somebody who cares enough about you to keep you on your toes. So, thanks so much, and we'll be back shortly.

CARLOS: Thank you. Bye.


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