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The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) is a participatory organisation with members in more than 65 countries. As a professional association, we set internationally accepted industry standards, provide accreditation, support a community of practice, advocate and educate on the power of facilitation and embrace the diversity of facilitators.

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May 2016
| Issue #3

Empathetic Communication

By Julia Goga-Cooke

'Illuminate' is a new book by Patti Sanchez and Nancy Duarte: research based, practical, jargon-free, a great compendium for anybody that wants to be a better communicator. One thing the book stresses is the need for not just  clear communication, but empathetic communication. Patti and Nancy set out 5 ways to use empathy to motivate people to take part in change:

  1. You can never see the world exactly as another person does, but you can get close by asking and listening. Ask people what they are thinking and feeling so you can empathise with the sacrifices they will have to make, and you can then identify the rewards that will motivate them. And what you learn may point out flaws in your strategy or better approaches to winning support for it. 

  2. Communication needs to continue throughout, not just setting out the vision at the beginning and wrapping it up at the end. Confusion and gossip spread with a lack of communication, or a lack of empathetic communication. As a leader, you may feel you have the best grasp of the situation, but fail to understand the concerns of the others. If you know where they are and how they feel, you can communicate effectively and avoid rumour and confusion.

  3. Empathy is an ability we all have: you just need to take the time to ask questions and really listen to the answers. If noticing how others are feeling doesn't come naturally to you, ask someone you trust to coach you, pointing out when you are missing emotional cues or opportunities to learn more about others' perspectives. 

  4. The more you practice empathy, the better you get at it.

  5. Transformation of any kind requires hard work. It's up to you as a leader to understand how the journey feels to those you are asking to carry it forward, so you can communicate with them empathetically. It's like the Hero's Journey in literature: it takes time and effort because people don't change easily.