Connecting through empathy

Mar 23, 2020

Understanding others will help you build the connections that will lead to success – in your professional and personal life.

Have you ever tried to pull a team together for a complex project interview only to find the opinions in the room are so dramatically different that you spend most of the time in the meeting trying to find consensus? You may have an engineer in the room, along with a designer and others who bring their perspectives. You’ve undoubtedly encountered the conversation where no one in the room has given a thought about the project from anyone else’s perspective – sometimes not even the client’s.

The way we communicate with people today is fast-paced, often through digital channels. It’s easy to forget the other person may be coming to the conversation from an entirely different perspective. It is especially crucial in today’s high tech/digital communication climate to take a step back, pause to appreciate where your audience is coming from, and structure a message in a way that makes a real connection with your audience.

Personal brand. How do others see you? If you’re an engineer, for example, do your co-workers see a linear thinker, someone who takes care of all the details, or do they see something entirely different? Do your clients see you as quiet and thoughtful, or do you show them a different side? Stereotypes are natural, and it’s up to you to brand yourself the way you want people to see you. How others see you is your personal brand. Your personal brand also affects how people connect with you.

Connecting through empathy. At a basic level, humans desire to be understood. “Feeling understood prompts you to relate more fully to others, to show more willingness to be open and vulnerable with them.” As Carl Nassar (“The Importance of Feeling Understood”) astutely observes: “When we feel understood ... we show our true selves – flaws and all. In turn, they are more likely to be vulnerable and honest with us. This helps us connect ... on a deeper level, improving the quality of our relationships” (from Psychology Today’s “Feeling Understood – Even More Important Than Feeling”).

Genuine connection happens when you begin to understand someone from their perspective, not what you want their perspective to be, and then fully appreciate them. Understanding others will help you build the connections that will lead to success – in your professional and personal life.

Pause to appreciate:

  • Their background
  • The current situation
  • Their emotions
  • How they communicate with you, and why
  • How you fit in this scenario
  • How they view your involvement
  • Your history with this person/group
  • The choices you have to react
  • And put yourself in their shoes.

Ask questions:

  • Do you understand everything you need to understand to connect with this person/group?
  • Do you understand or at least appreciate the experiences of your audience?
  • What details are you missing?
  • What history are you missing?

Combine logic and emotion. Once you’ve considered the variables of communication above, you are ready to respond in a manner that builds a connection. Take a minute to absorb the intel you’ve gathered and formulate a response that indicates your understanding of their situation. At this point, the information at your fingertips is both logical and emotional. Combining these two gives you a fuller picture and leads your audience to feel understood. Building this trust is crucial for the connection to be genuine. Play out the scenario in your head, first – test run the message. Consider the possible reactions from your audience. Have you conveyed the message you intended? Have you received the verbal or non-verbal response you expected?

This process of empathizing will lead to lasting connections and trust. Trust and understanding are the two critical ingredients to successful communication. Build a connection with your audience through understanding and empathy so they trust you and your message.

Tammi Nagucki, CPSM, is director of marketing at Environmental Design Group. Contact her at

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