Empathy: The Secret The Best Communicators Understand

I can hear you sigh: if only there was one simple rule for good communication skills. One cast-iron guaranteed way you can find the right thing to say to help you get that job, deal with your teen’s sulks, know when to argue and recognise when to apologise.

Well, worry no more. There’s one communication skill that outweighs all the practice in the world in making eye contact, nodding and matching people’s leg-crossings.

Not that those things don’t help you communicate better, of course. They do. But they work because of this one special gift we can all share.
Have you guessed it yet?
Ok, for those of you who didn’t already scan down the page to peek, I’ll tell you. It’s empathy. The big E.
The magic silver bullet you need to succeed.
Empathy is the ability to feel what another person feels, understand his point of view and imagine what he’s thinking. Or, as Native Americans (possibly) have said, “to walk a mile in another man’s moccasins.” Or woman’s, obviously.
© Clarita | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When you understand the person you’re talking to, you can tailor your messages to suit them. If they’re cross, you may use a calm voice to deflect their anger. If they’re worried, you could ask what’s wrong, or if they’re anxious, you may want to offer support.

Now I hear you wonder why, if this fabulous gift is out there and free of charge, we aren’t all grabbing it and working our silver-tongued magic on everyone from the car salesman to our toddler with a tantrum.

The answer is that although some degree of empathy seems to be hard-wired in our brains, making use of it is a skill, and like any skill, it takes hard work and practice to grow it. Lots of practice. Plus determination, focus, time, effort and all the other difficult stuff you thought you could leave behind when you left school.

Oh, I feel your pain (laughs cruelly). You thought it was going to be easy.

On the other hand, you can work on it while you watch TV, trawl through Twitter and flirt with Facebook.

When you feel empathy, when you understand the way the other person thinks, you react in a way that means something to them.

In the simplest terms, it means you don’t laugh when someone tells you their cat died. You may be a dog person, and think all cats are witches’ familiars, but you know enough about the cat’s owner to feel at least a little of their sorrow.


Empathy comes more easily to some than to others, like all human traits.Work to improve your empathy and you’ll find your communication skills develop automatically.

Find out what other people feel and think by watching them and listening to them. Their body language gives you plenty of clues. Here are a few hints:

1 She tends to look at the floor rather than at you: she’s paying attention to how she feels inside, she may be shy, not confident, may even be upset.

2 He makes great eye contact: he feels happy, confident and friendly.

3 She folds her arms: whoops, she’s anxious or nervous, or wants you to keep your distance.

4 He strokes his hair or touches his face: he cares what you think about him.

5 She speaks in a high voice: she’s nervous, or likes to be like a little girl (think Minnie Mouse).

There are hundreds of types of body language. Don’t forget to watch conversations between others or on the screen to pick up some clues. Learn to recognise ‘tells’: the tiny movements or the eyes, or hands, or facial muscles people use that give them away when they’re nervous, telling lies or trying to sell you something. That’s how poker players operate.

Once you see how someone feels it’s far easier to talk to her.

Why not do a spot of people-watching, next time you’re on the bus or in a restaurant?

What have you noticed people doing that gives you a clue about them? I’d love to hear your stories.


How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Understanding Words

Here’s the latest extract  from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.

I’m getting great feedback from those of you who read this every week, thanks to everyone who’s tweeted or emailed. If you’d like to get in touch, maybe with a question on babies, toddlers and language development, or any communication topic, feel free to email me through the Contact Me tab at the top of the blog.

The third key that unlocks the mysteries of language for your child, is understanding.

In this extract, I explain a little about what it means to a baby and toddler to begin to understand words.

If you’re a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. At the end of each week’s post you’ll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT. 
Understanding: meanings
One of the beautiful properties of language is that most words have a range of meanings. When you hear the work “dog”, you visualize a dog. You have a picture in your mind. Very likely the mental picture you have is different from the picture anyone else has. This is because the meaning of the word depends on your life experiences.
If you own a dog, you may think of him first. If your own dog’s a labrador, you’ll have a picture of a labrador in your mind, while your friend who has a dachshund will imagine her dog when she hears the word. 
Understanding: making sense of sounds
For your baby, the first step in learning the meaning of words is linking the word to just one thing: in this case, a dog. Remember that, in his first year, “dog” is a string of sounds that has no meaning. 
He hears that collection of sounds repeated many times. It begins to have a familiar ring about it, until he notices that every time he hears those sound combinations, that furry animal that barks and licks is in the room. 
Every time he hears that particular string of sounds, there is this thing that you call “dog” around. At first, it may be the family dog. Then he may hear those sounds while you point to another dog next door or to a picture in a book. He hears “dog” each time.
Perhaps then, the word refers to any animal with four legs, or to anything with a collar. It could be any or all of these. Gradually, he learns that different animals have different names, or labels, and he recognizes those different labels.
His understanding grows so fast that by 2 years old he understands 200 words and more. 
Understanding: toddlers
Your toddler starts to realize that words can go together in phrases. When you say “give it to daddy”, the words he picks out are “give” and “daddy”. These words carry the important meaning of the sentence, and the rest of the sentence is unimportant. Help him understand by emphasizing the important words you say, and by often using short, simple sentences. 
Understanding: phrases 
Next, your child learns how words combine into phrases and sentences. “The cat sits” for example.
Grammatical markers, such as “-ing” and “-ed” help to increase the number of meanings attached to those words and phrases. You can say, “the cat sat”: changing one vowel sound in “sit” from “i” to “a” changes the tense of the phrase, putting it in the past. You can also add markers to turn the phrase into the future tense: “the cat will sit.” 
Understanding: frustration 
Temper tantrums are likely in your 2-year old child, often the result of the frustration he feels. He can’t understand your explanation for denying him those sweets or toys he wants. He understands “no” but not “they’re bad for you.” 
He can’t explain his own feelings of frustration, because his language skills have yet to reach a stage of development that allows him to put his feelings into words. No wonder he screams and kicks.

Often, sign language helps, as he uses a set of simple signs more easily than putting together the words and saying them so people understand. If you use sign language with your toddler, make sure you always say the words as you make the sign. You want your child to hear words in context many, many times, before he learns to say them himself.  

Come back next week for another extract. CLICK HERE

If you’re finding these extracts useful, and can’t wait to read the rest of the ebook, just BUY NOW. Download How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter to your Kindle in seconds for only £3.53 ($5.73).

Who Else Wants To be Liked? Best Tips For Meeting New People

Maybe I should be asking: who doesn’t want to be liked? Because most of us, whether we admit it or not, want to be admired, liked, accepted and popular. People who genuinely don’t care what others think of them are the real eccentrics in society, and much as you may admire them, you probably wouldn’t be happy in their isolated environment.

Being easily liked can help you in so many ways. It  helps you get a job (your interviewer makes his mind up about you in seconds). Once you’ve got one, you want to fit into the team and enjoy your work.

In your social life, you want friends, at least enough so you get to go out once in a while.

Every time your child starts a new school, or goes to University, or wants to move away from home and share a flat, she needs to get on with other people.

Why people like you
You can make people warm to you at first sight, through your body language and your inner language. It takes practice, and the more you practice, the better you’ll be.

The first time two people meet, whether it’s at a party, meeting your partner’s parents, at an interview or a business meeting, it’s a significant moment. Just like other animals, for each participant the first meeting is full of anxiety. Both of you unconsciously ask yourselves Is this person dangerous? Is he stronger than me? Is he going to attack? Or is he like me, one of my tribe, someone I will be able to depend on and trust?

Remember that both of you have the same questions flicking through your minds, and the answers will depend on the way you appear. Take control of this situation, by taking account of the four things you need to give yourself a charisma boost.

A new person will feel safe with you if you seem:
   • to fit into his ‘tribe’ by looking like him, so you’re less likely to attack;

   • competent, giving him confidence;

   • warm, as you signal that you like the look of him and won’t be a danger;

   • good humoured because you seem to find the same things funny as him.

Give out these signals using the following tips and you’ll be liked on sight.

Look right
Dress in the style of the people you plan to meet. You wear different clothes at Glastonbury to those you need for a business meeting. Be appropriate. In most cases that means being clean, tidy and neat. Only dress like a Goth when you meet other Goths.

Body language
Show you are in control of yourself, so that the person you meet can relax. The way you stand, your gestures and your facial expression all give him important signals, so look him in the eye and smile. As you look, say to yourself, “I like him/her.” That one thought changes your facial expression more effectively than any amount of practice. Your smile becomes warmer, your forehead relaxes and your eyes crinkle in a genuine smile.

Stand straight with your hands at your side, not crossed in front of your chest.

If you shake hands, lean slightly towards him and shake firmly, then let go.

A strong voice shows your confidence and self-control. For a strong voice, you need a good lung-full of breath and a relaxed throat. A good tip is to breathe out fully, then let your lungs refill naturally. This relaxes your muscles far more than taking an intentionally deep breath.

Lower your voice a little, if you tend to squeak when you feel nervous. Most of us do.

Speak a little louder. When you feel shy or nervous, you’re likely to mumble.

If your voice is habitually weak and thin, it’s worth practicing a few voice exercises to strengthen it.

Most of us are not comedians and we can’t tell jokes. Don’t try. The best way to seem good-humoured is to enjoy other people’s humour. This puts you on the same wavelength and makes you seem alike. Smile when your companion makes a joke, even a bad one, and avoid laughing out loud unless you truly find something funny.

More communication skills that work:

How to Banish Guilt Through Positive Thinking

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Ten Best Tips for Better Understanding 

How I Stopped Mind Reading and Started Enjoying My Life

How to Give Advice

How To make Positive Suggestions and Improve Your Child’s Behaviour 

Ten Tips on Dealing with Angry People 

Ten Ways Pauses Improve Communication