Re-Engineering Empathetic Communications Before Its Too Late

When it comes right down to it, of the many things that we take for granted in our lives, one of those things, is the ability to truly communicate with empathy. We assume that Interpersonal Communications is just one of those automatic things that we need not be concerned about. It is after-all a skill we learn from early childhood. Nowadays when increasingly even the early childhood experiences of our children include way more screen interaction versus interpersonal interactions we have set a change in motion, that will continue to influence our future. In my family, my son and daughter in-law have shared with me several times, how they have been lectured in my grandchildren’s nursery school, among the other parents about the long term damaging effects, of communicating with your kids while you are staring at your Phone and or Tablet and not looking at them directly in the eye. Clearly we are bringing up a generation that is at risk of not knowing Empathetic communications.

What should we do when we suddenly understand that the very underpinning of successful communications that is based on Empathy is under dramatic decay from our over dependence and lack of balance with our technology. The research done by the likes of Professor Sherry Turkle from MIT, in her book on Reclaiming The Conversation or Alone Together underscores the frightening phenomena in which we are losing touch with our ability to empathize with one another whether it’s via listening and or speaking. We have traded our relationships with one another for the devices that we brought into our lives to connect us with one another. The outcome is that while we still communicate the result is not creating a greater sense of “we” but increasingly focused on “I”. It is perhaps ironic that the same screens we turn to communicate when they are dormant give away their secret. When you gaze at your Smart Phone, Tablet or computer screen when they are off, all you see is YOU, reflecting back at you from a black abyss.

When you communicate with someone in the real world you can very often you can see and feel the presence of the “WE”. This is not to say that due to our love affair with Technology, that our fate is predetermined in that we cannot achieve the creation of the “WE” when we communicate, but it requires re-thinking and re-engineering how we preserve empathetic communications in our personal and professional lives.

The famous Dr. Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People, in his attempt at trying to help a generation not lose its grip on interpersonal communications pointed out that we are at risk when we “listen with the intent to reply and not to understand.” This trend towards increased transactional behavior in our day to day communications, in my estimation is a outgrowth of the abdication of our responsibilities to communicate with empathy.


Are we any different with our communications at work?


While this is certainly a concern in our personal lives, can we truly allow ourselves the luxury to believe that it is not negatively effecting our professional lives and economy as well? Modern day executives are plagued with a plethora of communications in the form of emails, text messages, documents, collaboration tools and 24/7 mobility making it impossible to disconnect without a purposeful decision.

The sense of becoming a slave to your inbox is not a uncommon concern for most of us nowadays. In trying to balance our days we often find ourselves trying to manage our offline lives as we manage our online lives, shifting as fast as we can to answer and follow the put the “check in the box” approach versus really communicating. In a study that Professor Sherry Turkle often discusses, she mentions that case of how real time communications are effected between two individuals when a mobile phone albeit off is placed between them on the table. From her comments we learn that the observations of the experts are that the conversations with a Mobile device clearly visible between two people encourages the participants to share less and make their conversation increasingly peripheral/transactional. Although difficult sometimes to see we have become increasingly too comfortable allowing our technologies to take the responsibility for our communications as we conform to the algorithmic versus insisting that for ourselves and others, that our devices conform to our human needs of understanding and real life connecting and move away from the transactional approach. 


So if we are not relating to one another and being empathetic where is the harm?

Can this trend negatively effect our Professional lives as well and perhaps on a Macro Level our Economy?


In Patrick Lencioni’s best selling business book The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team, he describes a worrisome phenomena called the collapse of “Vulnerability Trust”. In his book he describes Vulnerability Trust as the key underpinning of Team Work. Interestingly enough one of the best ways of building and maintaining high levels of Vulnerability Trust among Team Members is via Empathetic Communications. When empathetic communications are not present the disappearance of Vulnerability Trust between members of a Team is not far behind. 


Jeff Kahn, November 29, 2016.

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