Have you ever had a problem understanding other people?
You have probably wished that you could know what someone else was thinking at some point in time. Maybe you could tell they weren’t telling you everything that was on their mind. Or maybe you missed someone’s silent plea for you to understand them completely. In either situation, you would benefit from a better ability to understand others. In this post we will outline five different techniques for developing an ability for understanding other people.
1. See things from the other person’s point of view
3. Evaluate feelings
4. Practice self-awareness
5. Read nonverbal communication
See things from the other person’s point of view. Walk a mile in their shoes. The only way to truly understand what others are going through, or why they think or act a certain way, is to see things the way they see them. Have you ever been really upset with another person? Maybe they said something to offend you or acted in a way that made you really mad. The easy response to this is to get mad at them and stay mad. Well, what if instead of getting mad you took a moment to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Here are three steps for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes:
1. Think about what that person has going on in his or her life. If you don’t know, ask.
2. Think about how you would act if you were in that specific situation.
3. Talk to the person about the situation and find out why they handled it the way they did.
Once you see the situation from the other person’s point of view it will be much easier to have empathy for them and to move on from the situation.
Listen. Listening is the most important part of communication, and a key part of understanding other people. Listening is not the same as simply hearing. When you truly listen to someone speak, you stop what you’re doing and direct your full attention to the person talking. Listening takes effort and focus. You must focus on the person talking in order to fully understand what is being said, and have the ability to respond in a thoughtful way. The next time someone asks to speak with you, make an effort to listen and to understand.
Evaluate feelings. Now that you know what it means to truly listen, you can take understanding one step further and learn to evaluate a person’s feelings. Empathy means that you understand not only the words being said, but the ideas and the feelings that go with the words.
Sometimes feelings are easy to detect. If a person is crying, you can tell that they are obviously sad. However, not everyone wears their emotions on their sleeve. It’s up to you to read into what is not being said or outwardly shown. So how do you evaluate feelings when mind-reading is not an option? Here are three tips to help you out:
1. Be careful not to put your own feelings in place of someone else’s.
2. Talk about the other person’s feelings, not your own.
3. Try to read between the lines and go with your gut. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, go the extra step and ask.
Practice self-awareness. Empathy is built through an understanding of oneself, or self-awareness. The more you understand your own thoughts and feelings, the more you can understand someone else’s. If you don’t recognize the many feelings you experience on a daily basis, how can you expect to recognize those feelings in someone else? The more open we are to our own feelings, the more skilled we become at reading someone else’s feelings.
How well do you know your own feelings? Here is a list of common situations. Fill in the blank with a reasonable response or reaction to the situation. Then put down the feeling (or feelings) that caused your response or reaction.
Read nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication is very powerful and most communication is non-verbal in nature. So what is nonverbal communication? Nonverbal communication is made up of facial expressions, or the look on a person’s face, and body language, or movements. Picking up on these nonverbal cues will help you to fully understand what the speaker is trying to tell you. This deeper understanding of others will further strengthen your empathy for people.
Sometimes people will do everything short of coming out and saying how they feel. They’re hoping you will pick up on their nonverbal cues so they don’t have to tell you with their words. Did you know that the majority of communication is nonverbal? That’s why it is so important to pay attention to people’s actions as well as their words. Without nonverbal communication, you’re only taking in a small part of the conversation!
Remember to use these five techniques to improve your understanding of others. You will be sure to notice the benefits in your interpersonal relationships when you do!
If you want to learn more about developing or teaching soft skills, sign up for our free Soft Skills 101 webinar!