Humans have an uncanny ability to detect whether or not another person is fully present to us. Little things give us away like a furtive glance at the cell phone, a slight rotation of the wrist with a watch, or a peripheral look at the clock on the wall. And then there is fidgeting with a pen or pencil in our hands or looking past another rather than capturing their eyes and expressions.

Clients pick up on these little things. Likewise, we instinctively notice them in others. More than we realize, these kinds of distractions steal the show and keep us from doing our best work.

Is there a fix? A practice I encourage you to refine is the ability to nurture and express empathy. Be so present to another you feel as well as hear their words. In effect, you understand another at a level that deeply connects their experience with yours.  

Unlike sympathy where we express our sorrow in the passing of a loved one or offer some verbal gesture that acknowledges a life disappointment, empathy moves beyond another life’s front porch. All of us have those priceless, memorable moments when someone cares so deeply for us, we never want the visit to end. Empathy functions in the living room or kitchen table of a relationship.  It is there when our guard drops a bit because we know the other person is safe and has nothing else on the agenda for that one-on-one connection.  

Nurturing empathy requires mindfulness. So do this to get started. First, ease into a more empathic way of relating to clients when you are with close friends. Take mental notes of those who listen more with the heart than the ear. What is it about that safe, caring person that raises your comfort level and lowers your fear? What sets those few apart from the many? 

Second, minimize distractions from spaces where you engage clients. Put your phone on airplane mode, turn off your office TV, place your chair in close proximity to the client in a place where you will not be tempted to graze distractions that populate your office.  

Most importantly, ask more questions. Encourage your client to talk about issues important to them. Our agenda is not even close to what matters most to those we serve. Remember our clients “buy” us: our time, our presence, our counsel, and our empathy, care, compassion, and understanding.

Nurturing empathy is a skill all of us can learn to do better. When you practice empathy, notice how your clients lean in to conversations more readily, share with you more generously, and communicate what is most pressing in their lives right now. That kind of information, born of conscious care, is the most precious data we discover.

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