We have all heard of the golden rule “Treat others how you would like to be treated,” but this seems to be easier said than done in the workplace. While this might have been easy when we were kids and you choose not to push someone on the playground or take someone’s crayons because you didn’t want them to do that to you. However, as we have got older it seems to be harder to follow the rule. Why?

I think it is because our experiences have changed us as we matured and made it harder to empathize with other’s experiences.  We all know how we feel, react, and behave in certain situations because we have been with ourselves for 20+ years, but it is really hard to step back and really understand how others feel, react and behave in the same situations.

Here are five steps that I practice in my personal and work life to support empathy and the development of true connections with others.

  1. Be present. You cannot listen to what someone is saying or see what their body language is saying if you are multi-tasking. I realize that this is a hard one given that we live in a world where multi-tasking is a must, but by stopping what you are doing and being present in the moment you can really listen for understanding.
  2. Actually listen. This means listening to understand what the other person is sharing with you and not feeling pressure to find the “right” answer or response.
  3. Asking questions. A big part of listening is asking questions to understand how others are feeling and thinking. Asking questions allows you to fully engage in the conversation and allows others to be heard, which builds connections and trust.
  4. See other views, besides your own. We all see the world through our own lens that was developed from our life experiences and no one’s lens is the same. In practicing empathy, we need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective from their lens.
  5. No judgment. Our experiences and beliefs create judgments, sometimes these are helpful (e.g., morality, ethics) and some are not (e.g., I would have done it this way). When looking to empathize and connect with others, we need to put these judgments aside and not think of what we might have done, but listen to see their point of view and reasoning.

Joy Papini, PhD, is the President of CIDIS LLC, a Management Consulting firm located in Reston, VA.