I’ve been working on the transcript of a leader in an interview talking about the real levers of communication. The topic that struck me from the transcript is her discussion of the phenomenon of empathy, and the distinction between empathy and sympathy.
It had me recall one of the truly great conversations I’ve experienced which was all about empathy.
It was a few years ago when I was participating in a leadership course. I was on a lunch break with others from the course, and we were at Darling Harbour in Sydney. I sat across from a man called Alex whom I had met a few hours before. We were eating noodles.
At the time, I was influenced by a story I’d told myself about my career and what I felt was a failure to capitalise on my skills and experience.
I found myself telling Alex about it. Alex was silent, continuing on with eating his noodles. Every few minutes when I reached the end of a particular work episode, he’d ask, “And then what happened?” I’d tell of some other employer, and at the end, Alex would ask again, “And then what happened?”
We went on that way for what seemed a long time. After a while, I started to experience him and his wonderful listening. I realised he was there for me, listening closely and with disinterest to what I said. He offered no comment, no sympathy or emotion. He simply said, “And then what?”
At the end of our lunch, I realised I’d been in the presence of a master communicator. And he hadn’t said more than 30 words in an hour.
Image: by Cerise Doucede
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