I’ll be honest with you…what I’m about to write about next is probably the thing I struggle with the most in relationships.

You see, I’m a fixer. I LOVE to problem solve. Whatever the problem and whatever the case, I’m Fixer-Man! (I should pitch that to Hollywood…or not)

But when it comes to people and human interaction, rarely does “fixing” work. As a matter of fact, it typically blows up in my face. And I’d be willing to bet it’s blown up in yours a time or two.

For instance, my wife is very emotive. Sometimes, when she emotes about an issue, I take that as an invitation to utilize my incredibly amazing problem-solving skills.

It’s never that kind of invitation.

But it IS the kind of invitation that gives us an opportunity to grow closer together. She wants me to understand what she’s going through, not give her a formula. She wants me to feel with her, not coach her.

What I’m talking about here is EMPATHY.

E M P A T H Y
noun | em·pa·thy | ˈempəTHē

Simple Definition of EMPATHY
: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

In all relationships, we should strive to lead with empathy…that is if we want to feel more connected in our relationships.

Brené Brown says it this way:

“Empathy drives connection, sympathy drives disconnection.”

Think of the last time your boss (or employee) came in the office and was a bit “snappier” than usual. You could take the normal approach and assume he’s just being a jerk. Or you could take the empathic approach and believe the best by remembering a time that you came into the office snappier than usual. You probably had something happen to you that morning and what you needed was for someone to sit down and feel with you, not alienate you for being “off.”

Before I became a father, I wasn’t very empathetic with parents or kids. If I heard a kid coughing or saw snot running down his nose, I was grossed out (call me cold-hearted…I probably deserve it). But since becoming a father, every time I hear a kid cough, I’m now filled with compassion! For the kids AND the parents. I can now relate to what it’s like having to care for a sick child. I know what it sounds like to hear your child late at night coughing in her bed because of a cold. It’s miserable and heartbreaking.

That’s been an important lesson for me in empathy. Today, I often think to myself, “Where else do I need to lead more with empathy?” That’s a great question, and one I’d encourage you to ask yourself regularly.

Leading with empathy is incredibly beneficial no matter what position you find yourself in.

If you’re a leader/boss, empathy will garner greater respect for you.

If you’re a husband/wife, empathy will deepen the connection you already have.

If you’re a HUMAN (which you are…I’m positive of that), empathy will provide richer and more meaningful friendships and relationships in every sphere of influence you have.

Stephen Covey says it best in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

P.S. – Brené Brown has a great 3-minute video on empathy. I highly encourage you to watch it. Totally worth your time.