I was in a meeting yesterday with a group of colleague entrepreneurs. One member of our group was struggling with a business issue. It was a difficult struggle and she was clearly really upset about it. Our commitment as a group is to help one another work through problems – as well as celebrate successes, just overall contribute to the success of one another's businesses. So, as our group member talked through the struggle she was having, a few of us responded with opinions, tips and advice for how to handle the situation. The problem is, it wasn't helping. In fact, it seemed to be upsetting her more. So, there we sat – quiet for a bit – trying to figure out what to say to make this situation better for our friend and colleague.
Then, one of our quieter members, who hadn't said anything so far in the lengthy and passionate discussion, started to tell a story. He told how he recently found himself in a very similar situation. He shared how angry he was at the time, how frustrated by the circumstances. He talked about how his feelings were so overwhelming that they were getting in the way of his business relationships and even eeking into his sales interactions. He told us how he realized this and struggled to figure out how to resolve it. Then he talked about how he resolved it – over time – and the ways in which his life got better. He said he still can tap that angry feeling but he can see how letting the anger go makes him a better sales guy and business person. I could feel his struggle, his somewhat resistant resolution and his genuine appreciation for having let go of his anger.
Then he told our colleague how much he respected her work, her business, and her passion for her work. He gave her genuine and positive feedback about her Contributions in her field – with specifics.
We were all silent. And I kept thinking – “Wow, this is stunning…” I don't know how anyone wouldn't feel uplifted by this gift of an empathetic story, genuine positive feedback and totally committed sharing.
There's just nothing as effective as empathy in times of distress. It's amazing how soothing it feels to have someone else really know what you describe, even while it is always in their own way. And it's a great gift to share that experience with someone when they are in the midst of something on which you have come out the other side.
I didn't actually ask our distressed colleague how she felt after that exchange but I know I was totally uplifted. Of course, it was her story and her struggle so she had further to go to reach “uplifted” than me, but she sure seemed to feel better. I did notice that the whole energy of the conversation changed after that exchange. Everyone was more empathetic – to the degree we each could be. And we definitely “held the space” differently – with more compassion and thoughtfulness than we had before.
Empathy is just crazily powerful. Mix it with compassion and it totally rocks the house.
Sand Sculpture – Friends image by Erix! on Flickr