I wrote about empathy in a previous blog – http://oxfordprofessionalenglish.com/?p=801  

Here are some more reasons why it’s important. Multiracial Hands Making a Circle

Communication and empathy are at the centre of good relationships.  So we need to strengthen both sets of skills. In International business, cultural and linguistic empathy is especially important.

There’s the matter of culture. Without empathy, we always see things from our own angle and through our own cultural expectations. With empathy, we gain valuable new insights about different cultural norms and understand others better.

There’s another thing to consider when you work in an international context where English is the working language – the matter of language. Without empathy, an individual’s behaviour might be misconstrued as apathy or rudeness, when instead it is caused by lack of confidence or skill in Business English language.

How can you strengthen your empathy skills?

I said before that empathy is like a muscle.  The more you practise the skills, the stronger the muscle becomes.

Here are 5 practical tips worth considering to help you strengthen that muscle, focusing specially on empathy in language and cross-cultural situations.

1. Listen on a deep level:  listen to what is said and also what is not said.

– Sometimes you’ll need to ask questions to get clarity. Don’t assume you know.

– Noticing body language, tone of voice, eye contact will help you determine underlying or hidden emotions. But don’t assume you are interpreting them correctly; instead, check.

2. Don’t rush people; encourage them.

– If someone is stumbling with language give them time, encourage them with helpful words or gestures.

– In meetings, it can be very hard to manage interruptions well when you are speaking a second language so invite the more silent people by name to give their   opinion.

3. Make sure you have regular 1:1 sessions.

– Empathising with team members will be easier if you have regular 1:1 conversations. You will gradually understand individuals on a deeper level and be less likely to make wrong assumptions about them.

 4. Give time to prepare in advance for meetings.

– By sending team members documents or presentations in advance they will have the chance to review them, be more confident in meetings and formulate questions or opinions.

 5. When there is a problem, don’t judge others too quickly.

– Imagine 3 possible interpretations for the behaviour you’ve seen. This will remind you there isn’t just one interpretation.

– Then ask: don’t assume.

Try some of these suggestions and watch the reactions of those you work with. I hope you notice positive results.

For more tips about improving your English and using English for Business, download your free copy of our “International Business Tips” e-book.  If you work internationally, you’ll find the practical tips useful – for meetings, presentations and conference calls.


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