How to Be More Empathetic as a Coach or Leader

Becoming a Deaf trainer has challenged me to function and thrive in an environment fractured by a lack of empathy.

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.

I am going to share my experience and my ideas of how we can make empathy part of our daily interaction.

When I started personal training, there were many questions around my success. How would a Deaf person coach? Be part of a huge hearing team?

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. But there were still many moments were I felt like an outsider.

This year I discovered another purpose that needs to be developed in my workspace, and hopefully it inspires you to do the same:

Promoting emotional intelligence. Positive dynamics between teams and clients.

What caused me to start think about this? The little things easily undetected by the hearing folks are loud and clear, such as:

  • 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 support each other and 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?

I suspect so. Because I’m going through the same thing, I can see who is too. We just put up our shields and become extremely self-driven and independent. We leave with our chins up. We fly solo in our workouts and bury our noses in our studies.

Independence isn’t a solution.

I actually had a friend, also in the training business, ask me for empathy coaching recently.

Can you teach empathy?

Let’s try.

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

*I’m writing from my personal perspective, in hopes to help my own workspace, 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. It doesn’t matter if there’s a language barrier or none. Show you’re not in a hurry.

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!