Silent Empathy – a powerful tool for enriching relationships
It was exactly a year ago, when I got some honest feedback – all one has to do is simply ask a child – and realized I still had serious work to do.
We were sitting together at the same table, engaged in the same Sinterklaas-related artwork as this past week. Our conversation was on the subject of Zwarte Piet names. In Holland, much like the seven dwarfs, the “Sint’s” helpers each have a name that represents them, e.g. Wrap-Piet, Music-Piet, Piet-In-Love, etc.
So I had the bright idea to ask, “What Piet name would you give me?” The answer came from my son without a moment’s reflection, and my daughter agreed whole-heartedly: “Always-Doing-Things-Piet.”
Hmmm. So they see me as busy. Always busy, in fact. Too busy to relax and enjoy life? Too busy for them? I refrained from asking too many depressing questions, and decided to take it at face value. . . they see me as always busy.
So I started to try observing myself from their eyes and had to admit they had a point. Stopping my productivity wasn’t something I knew how to do well. Put another way, just sitting, enjoying, relaxing with my kids (since the breastfeeding days, when I had no other choice) isn’t a natural thing for me. I didn’t realize this was an issue for them. Maybe it wasn’t so much of a negative issue – just one they’d come to completely acknowledge, and gulp, accept.
What quickly became clear to me was that I didn’t want to accept this.
So, throughout this past year, I’ve made more attempts to stop my busyness, engage, give more attention, play and laugh with them more. It’s paid off to a degree, but it’s awfully hard to change the ole automatic pilot through awareness alone.
At a recent annual European Mentoring and Coaching Council conference, I learned about a new skill that I think will make a bigger difference. The speaker, Nancy Kline, never mentioned the phrase, but in a nutshell, she described “silent empathy” and what it can do to enrich not only self-confidence (in the one being heard), but also relationships. I was so inspired, I bought her latest book, “More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World,” and during the flight home, felt the tears well up in my eyes when I read the following passage. (Note: this is not meant to be preachy or guilt-inducing, but food for thought!)
The one thing the human mind seems not able to multitask is Attention. It can do lots of other things at the same time, but not if one of them is Attention. This is important for leaders and managers to know. But it is vital for parents to know. We cannot do other things and listen at the same time. Our children, of all ages and until the day they or we die, need us to listen to them. Listening is right up there with food and air. And love. Actually, it is love.
So for some part of every day, when you are with your child, of any age, put away your laptop, your iPhone, your newspaper, and turn off the T.V. Be. Just be there. Be available. Your child will soon talk. Then get interested and listen. Say nothing for ages. They know when you are not listening. . . Way sooner than you think, it is too late. You can’t go back to their childhood and listen.
I’ve tried it a few times . . . and like the results so far. Perhaps sometime in the near future, I’ll remember to stop and do it every single day.