wrecking ballUmpathy

Well I have done it again. While trying to connect the red, white and yellow cables to the TV cable source, I invented a new word. Now I have done this before ( https://breakingwell.com/2015/04/30/blong/  )  with very little impact on this fragile language of ours. Like a dog chasing it’s tail, I too often celebrate the effort and not the end result.

Many of us have had to endure communications courses that promise wholesale changes in you ability to express your ideas. If by chance I was the master facilitator of your session, you never had a chance. There are infinite versions of these types of communication courses. The words, the phrases and the cute acronyms that are the foundation of this type of intervention are more than well tested and based on fundamental principles.   You discover very quickly that your ability to trust the person speaking will heavily influence your desire to listen to what is being said. Trust is driven by the empathy of the other person.

Emotional intelligence is an idea that caught on years ago as a critical attribute for successful people.  It also nicely contrasted your very low IQ scores to help explain your relative success in your personal and business life.  EI is considered a high level attribute that will often separate the practisers from the pretenders. Hidden in this very sought after behavior is the expression of empathy. One’s ability to see, hear and feel the other person’s point of view is the starting point for mutual understanding.

Empathy is a term that is overused and under displayed. Most people claim to be very empathetic without evidence. This is kind of like those people who tell you they have a great sense of humour but never smile.

For the very, very few, this is natural way of being. Those are the people you enjoy being around as they always seem to know the right thing to say. In my short life experience these are the exceptional people you know and always have time for in your busy day. In my working world and personal life I have met almost 216,327 people. Eight of them did this naturally. Now what about the rest of us?

Can it be taught? Probably not. I didn’t say this to be negative or cynical. I only said this because it rhymed.  As I learned as a dedicated training professional, just because something cannot be taught, that little deterrent should not stop one from teaching.

I will shift from the stance of cynicism to the less traveled road of optimism.  There is a way to help one’s struggle to articulate empathy, but it is not an easy step to ascend.

There is an automatic trigger that can help in your desired attempt to get a little better at this. During your many daily conversations there are often pregnant pauses between the two-person exchange that helps transform a monologue into a dialogue. Many choose to say “um”, before the expression of their next thought. Many simply imply the “um” without saying it. The good news is that all seem to be taking a deliberate moment to think before they speak. That moment of “um” can be the moment that increases the chance of improving the words that are about to be spoken.  Oh let’s just call this umpathy.

“Um” may be the vocal trigger to demonstrate people are thinking. Back to cynicism for a second, this may not be true, but as they said in the eighties, that is an empowering interpretation that pause. A more unempowering interpretation of the pause would be your talking partner has a rare form of Tourette syndrome.  If “um” is a vocal trigger for people to think before they talk, how can we take advantage of our short precisous moment of contemplation?  This is your moment of umpathy.

We all have seen the posters, or incessant postings on social media outlets that advocate, “It is better to be kind than to be right!”  The difficulty inherent in wise words is, like all great quotes, communication courses, and well researched business books, the theories are brilliant, but the “how” of practical implementation often gets lost in the moment of application.

As I delved much deeper into my made up word umpathy, I went back to those many conversations I have had with those eight people I know who do this effortlessly. Why do those people make me feel better when so many others do not. And then it hit me like a Tepperman wrecking ball gently touching my noggin. Something very unconscious occurs before they choose the words to say.  Like the long running game show Jeopardy, I will put this in the form of a question. Also like my experience watching the show Jeopardy, I may get the answer wrong.

“Is what I am about to say going to make me feel better about myself or is it going to make you feel better about yourself?”

So there it is.  A practical easily applied question that may change your natural tendency to prove you are right.  This filter will unfortunately force so many different words to emit from you well conditioned voice.  Warning:  This may even change your tone of voice.

Like the magic tricks you performed as a child, this may take a little practise.  This pretty well eliminates Allen Iverson from ever joining in this exercise.

Like the old 1970’s Alka-Seltzer commercial use to proclaim, “Try it you’ll like it.” I challenge those non believers to give this a shot  This may not be natural, and this may effect your utterance.  Since many believe empathy cannot be learned, I must face the inevitable conclusion that umpathy may not be teachable.  As I said at the beginning, sometimes the exercise is as important as the result. If this landed as a tad too lectury (another made up word)  I will, um, work on my own umpathy.


Cue the Blong.   Have a great weekend.








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