A little empathy goes a long way

When the world seems to be spinning at top speed, I need to pay extra attention to communication.  Not only in the way that I communicate, but to listen carefully and to intuitively notice how other people are (or are not) communicating. A sense of empathy can go a long way towards resolving communication conflicts. Here’s an example that happened to me…

Life doesn’t always run like clockwork

I looked forward to joining a colleague to present our services to a potential new client.  He and I felt ready and confident.  Then just an hour before our meeting, we received an email from our contact that she needed to cancel the appointment. It was brief, lacked any explanation, and (from our perspective) didn’t sound apologetic.

Of course we felt disappointed. I had arranged my schedule to go on this particular day and we had prepared a presentation. It seemed unfair because the person had requested to meet us. We also wondered why she didn’t give more advance notice about cancelling our meeting.

I realized how unproductive my train of thought was

I took a step back and re-framed the situation. There were a lot of ‘unknowns’ about why the person could have made this decision – things that, very likely, had nothing to do with me personally.  This moment of awareness opened my mind to feelings of empathy.

  • Perhaps this person, or someone else (a child, partner, parent…), was not feeling well
  • If she was feeling distracted (a stressful deadline on a project, dealing with unexpected problems, etc.) it might not have been the ideal time to have a meeting
  • This person may not have strong communication or project management skills. That’s my expertise, so when we re-schedule the appointment, I can propose solutions to help
  • And yes, the most obvious of all, maybe she found another copywriter.

By taking a step back to see the situation from the other person’s point of view, my feelings of irritation rapidly diminished.  Do I still wish that the meeting had not been cancelled? Yes, of course – but now I had extra time in my schedule so I turned my attention to more productive activities. That includes writing about my experience here – and maybe it will offer useful insights to share with other people, like yourself?

Ultimately we did get a meeting

I could understand why she was stressed. There was a noticeable vibe of company politics and competitiveness coming from her colleagues. My gut feeling was that simple projects frequently turned into nightmares. Fortunately, as an objective outsider, I have the freedom to just focus on the work that needs to be done. Things turned out well for both me and the client.

The next time you’re faced with unexpected changes or confusing communication with someone, try this idea of taking a step back to see the big picture.  A little empathy can help you to become a more peaceful person and to jump-start better relationships with others.