How to Be More Empathetic as a Coach or Leader

EMPATHY. This idea can’t seem to escape me.

Saying it carries a bit of weight. At least for me, because on a frequent basis, I can sense whether empathy is present. I wish there was more in our workplaces.

It’s a word easier said than understood.

Becoming a Deaf trainer has challenged me to function and thrive in an environment fractured by a lack of empathy. (Just can’t get away from that word, can I?)

After a particularly frustrating afternoon in the ‘hearing world’ where I didn’t let my shield protect me, I decided instead of wondering why there are voids of human understanding and connection, I would write down my feelings and share my ideas of how we can make…you guessed it…empathy a frequent behavior.

When I started personal training, i was unsure how the world would fit me. People questioned how I would communicate. I still knew it was time to leave my comfort zone, driven by a purpose.

I was mad with relentlessness.

It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but each day I was out on the floor, I confirmed my purpose: To help others find self assurance and strength through training.

While pursing my craft, I realized something I was not doing to thrive in my environment: Carrying a personal shield and not doing anything about the fractured environment.

This year I discovered another purpose of mine that needs to be developed: Promoting emotional intelligence. Positive dynamics between teams and clients.

I don’t want to need my personal shield ALL THE TIME. 

As a strength coach, I want to do two things: I want to build strong relationships with my clients and staff, and I want to feel like I am a part of a team.

The latter is a struggle sometimes.

The little things easily undetected by the hearing folks are loud and clear to me:

  • The small breaks the trainers take in between appointments. I find it nearly impossible to jump in because I can’t lipread more than one person at a time, or there’s no eye contact being made.

  • When people talk from long distances in between sets, I don’t have the ability to join in those conversations.

Silent voices circle around me all day long.

It requires maximum energy, and some luck, to get myself included.

When I make eye contact, wanting to be part of it, and ask ‘hey, what’s up/say what/etc?” it gets a little tiring, when it becomes one-sided.

Sometimes I wonder, why do I need to ask every time?

Does anyone sense the same missing link of human connection I feel?

Everybody gets tired of keeping energy levels high. We have all these days. I do too.

So, sometimes, I stop asking for it.

My shield goes up so it doesn’t negatively impact my self-confidence or drain me. I have many other reasons to feel fulfilled.

I suppose my “shield” is how I preserve my strength. I become extremely self-driven and independent.

I go in #beastmode with my solo workouts.

I accept the conversations I missed at the gym.

I snag marshmallow lattes or jump in lake by myself on my break.

I would rather, sometimes, write or read. My shield dissipates when I write because that communication is fluid between you and me. I find it more rewarding. Just like some of you go on walks on lunch or go to the gym alone.

It’s how we grow our minds and nurture physical strength.

However, it’s not a solution.

I’m not alone, though! I actually had a friend, also in the training business, ask me for empathy coaching recently.

I stalled for a bit. Not because I didn’t want to but I’ve never had such a direct request (which thrilled me) but it forced me to think with an outside in view, another reason why I wrote this piece.

I guess I do already ‘teach’ it except it’s not public or on purpose.

It transpires through my social life and personal relationships. When someone spends time with me/a person that needs a different approach to communication, it requires us to slow down and make the effort.

But what about the other people who don’t ask/don’t know how to address it?

I get it. Being a trainer is already a high demanding job where we’re trying to meet clients, be a team, etc. I get tired just like other trainers.

When people are stressed, they sometimes become more short and distracted, and that leads to a breakdown in empathy.

But if I can take down my shield and encourage empathy, it could be more helpful.

Maybe I can start consciously help those who don’t know how to ask for it rather than keeping my shield up?

With that said, I’ll try to answer this:

Empathy: How can it be used with me, and how can I use it better toward others?*

*I’m writing from my personal perspective, but these actions apply in many scenarios.

What I’m about to suggest requires going out of our comfort zones just slightly, setting aside stubbornness, for both me and you.

1. Eye contact. Lock eyes with someone you’re talking to a little longer than normal and let me know how it feels.

2. Use the A.R.E Technique. Anchor, reveal, encourage.

  1. Anchor: General observation about something you are part of with the other person.

  2. Reveal: Share something about yourself, inviting the other to reveal something (or vice versa – be sure to reveal if the other does it first).

  3. Encourage: Fuel the conversation by asking open-ended questions.

3. Remove your emotions from the situation briefly. View it at a birdeye’s view. What could this person/people be feeling? How are the dynamics? What can everyone do to improve it?

4. Don’t worry about being judged or looking silly. We usually judge when people DON’T do anything! Accept responsibility.

5. Be upfront if you feel left out, OR if you don’t know what to do. Say, “I realize something seems off. What can I do to make this more accessible?

6. Use body language. Gesture, gesture, gesture! Keeps your shoulders toward the person, or keep it rotating in a group conversation. Mimic the things you’re trying to tell me if I don’t understand. It’s very helpful. Body language as part of our vocabulary is extremely beneficial. Have you noticed how expert travelers get by?  How your dates (good and bad) behave towards you? What about brilliant TED speakers on YouTube?

7. Talk slowly. Not. Sloooowly. Not like that. But at a pace where people gravitate towards you because they know you’ve got something to say and you’re invested in the conversation. Being rushed just…costs you the opportunity to nurture the connection.

8. Be vulnerable. Vulnerability comes before trust develops. I know this is easier said than done. My advice is to take one interaction, one opportunity, privately or publicly (like this blog) to share something you don’t normally do.

Showing empathy makes us more accessible as team members or professionals.

It also helps me keep my (and yours?) shield down.

It helps us all, as trainers and clients, better communicate with each other and better understand what our goal is and how we can get there, together.

It’s a winning situation for everyone as long as we are willing to do our part.

Let’s fill in the voids, together!