I didn’t think of empathy when I decided to learn Spanish. Yet, as I tried to speak to people in San Miguel de Allende, I understood more about them than if I was speaking to them in English.
When I got home, I found a recent Fast Company article: Can Learning Another Language Boost Your Empathy? There is an interesting study of kids learning a second language the parents among you might find interesting. I found this quote that applied to me while I was in San Miguel.
Learning another language, it seems, may nudge us into territory where we can’t help but slow down–where we need to seek understanding and commonalities in order to communicate.
I definitely slowed down, as I was processing what the other person was saying to me in Spanish.
A few years ago the New York Times published a blog: Can Doctors Learn Empathy? It was written for doctors, but it could have just as easily been written for lawyers.
I found this interesting:
Greater physician empathy has been associated with fewer medical errors, better patient outcomes and more satisfied patients. It also results in fewer malpractice claims and happier doctors.
Wouldn’t you agree that greater lawyer empathy would be associated with the same things for clients and lawyers? If so, what is empathy and how can you learn to be more empathetic?
According to Wikipedia, Empathy is defined as:
the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another. I like to say that it is the ability to walk in another’s shoes.
As a lawyer, it is the ability to look at things from your client’s perspective. It is very important for you to understand how your client, or client representative, views the matter you are handling and what is important to him or her.
Keep in mind that for a business client your legal work is in the context of their business and for an individual client, your legal work is in the context of their life.
You are not born with empathy. You have to develop the skill and practice.
A few years ago I was working on a huge contract dispute that took me to Las Vegas every week. After working hard one day, I came back to the hotel and ate at one of the many restaurant bars. I struck up conversations with strangers at the bar and tried to listen, and not judge or offer advice.
I used phrases we should use as lawyers, like:
- Tell me more
- Help me better understand
- What was that like for you?
- How did you deal with that?
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas