That was a strange conversation. Why was she so abrupt and distant?
Walking away from a recent conversation had me scratching my head and asking a number of questions to myself. What went wrong? What did I say that had her seem put-off?
Here’s the reality. We rarely know ALL the data points from the other side. In other words, there’s always a backstory.
Think about it. How many things are going on in the background of your own life as you read this article? Too numerous to count, it may seem. But typically, there is usually one or two swirling around in the forefront of your mind…even when you are engaged in other unrelated activities or conversations, they are there. And the more serious and/or important they are to you, the more prominently they sit front and center: staring you in the face, tapping you on the shoulder, pressing on your mind.
Everyone has these backstories. And being aware that they may exist at a level you may or may not understand, is an important level of emotional awareness that will prove invaluable in your professional and personal life.
This leads me to empathy: one of those mysterious skillsets that seems to elude many of us.
Webster’s describes empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings…of another…without having the feelings…fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
In other words, your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; sensing and feeling their experience from their perspective.
Challenge yourself. Be truthful and answer this two-part question: how aware and in-tune are you with others, and how would you rate yourself on an empathy scale?
And it’s here, where awareness of someone’s backstory intersects with your ability for empathy, that I believe, strengthens your ability for strong interpersonal connection. It’s one of those complex aspects of life. But if we can remember that we are coming to the conversation with our own backstory, perhaps we can enhance our own ability for empathy. And that, in my opinion, is something that can be a major differentiator in business, leadership, and all relationships.
Back to the top of the page. Turns out there was a pressing personal issue on the mind of my meeting partner that day. She chose to keep our meeting out of respect for the commitment, and the potential for a simple professional distraction for herself.
To borrow from Stephen Covey where he points us to one of his seven habits worth exploring…seek first to understand.
Just like first impressions can mask much of the reality, there just may be a backstory.