Empathy Ladder

Inspired by our need for connection and intimacy, Living Coral is Pantone's color of the year. In honor of this gorgeous theme (and color), the first trek of 2019 is all about connecting with others through empathy.

You know that uncomfortable stare of judgy eyes? 

Empathy expert, Dr. Brene Brown, would argue that a judgy person is likely sympathizing rather than empathizing with you; she illustrates the difference with a ladder. Imagine a ladder between you (at the top) and someone who is feeling sad (at the bottom). With a sympathetic response, you remain at the top by creating emotional distance. With an empathetic response, you climb down the ladder by connecting with something in yourself that relates to the other person’s emotions.

Even though we all know how great it feels when someone empathizes with us, it's not always easy to provide that same emotional connection to others. And that is because being empathic all the time is tiring. It requires you to commit emotionally and relate to the person in a way that means you have to feel something too. Sympathy can feel safe; it allows you to keep your emotions, and vulnerability, at a careful distance from others.

Introducing Your Empathy Ladder Exercise

What It Is
A 20-minute exercise to help you climb down the empathy ladder and practice applying its four qualities to your 2019 work repertoire.  

Why We Love It 
In work situations where you have to be on-task all the time, it can be very hard to switch into empathic listening mode. This exercise offers a series of four questions to help your mind shift gears when a more empathic approach is critical.

How It Works
1. Take five minutes to look at your schedule this week and select a meeting or conversation you have coming up where you'd like to practice empathy building. Then, watch this  Brene Brown video for a brush-up on what it means to interact with empathy.

2. During that meeting, ask yourself the following regarding the person you are trying to connect with:

  • What perspective is this person coming from?
  • What emotions is this person feeling? How can I connect with something within myself that knows this feeling?
  • How can I suspend judgement regarding this person's perspective and what s/he is feeling?
  • How can I communicate in a manner that respects and honors his/her perspective and emotions as their truth?

3. As you listen and respond, be on the lookout for your tendency to use phrases like "At least" or "To look on the bright side." As Brown points out, those are typically sympathetic not empathetic responses where we minimize the other person's feelings as opposed to connect with them.

4. After your meeting or convo, take 5 minutes to reflect. What did it feel like to take this approach? How did the other person respond to you? How might this approach be beneficial in other situations?

Want to dig deeper? 
Here's what your fellow trekkers have to say about past treks:

"I really liked the Feedback Champ Trek. I found it particularly useful as I reflect on my areas of development, which can be difficult to accept and action. Instead of being nervous I'm choosing to be excited - increasing awareness of my triggers, keeping an open mind and focusing on constant improvement." 

Jared Zlotnick, Group Manager, Google Marketing Solutions
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Shankar Desai