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?
I paid very close attention to what each person told me and tried to put myself in their shoes. (As a quick aside, this experience taught me that it is true,
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas
Through this practice, I discovered I needed to become a better questioner and better listener when meeting with clients.
So, when you are in a social setting, sitting on an airplane, or like me sitting at a restaurant bar eating by yourself, strike up a conversation, ask questions, sincerely listen, do not judge and do not offer unsolicited advice. Practice, practice, practice.

 

  • Sportsgirlchar

    Excellent Article!

    In my opinion there are 3 basic traits to building and maintaining successful relationships, which clearly takes more than one person : trust, diligence, and empathy. As my wise mom always said, you can only control your actions, not others.

    “GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU HAVE, AND IT MAY NEVER BE ENOUGH; GIVE YOUR BEST ANYWAY,” -MOTHER TERESA

    Thank you for sharing your words and the gentle reminder to many , that there’s a little thing called humanity & for those that forget our legal system governs our human race, there’s a little thing called justice properly enforced through the system in which our nation was found.

    C.May

  • Sportsgirlchar

    I’m sorry , your tweet feature didn’t work but I wanted to share with my broad & loyal followers/friends. I had to shorten the URL but it will bring all readers back to this page, if anyone else would like to use as I did in my tweet pasted below. Have a wonderful day.

    THIS!!—> Empathy: What It Is, Why You Need It and How to Develop More of It! tinyurl.com/ccmh95c #life #humanity #relationships #legal
    View details ·

  • Sportsgirlchar, thanks for your kind thoughts and a great quote. Have a super day.

    • Sportsgirlchar

      My pleasure. I’ve thought of your words many times today. I only hope others read them and understand to where it makes a difference in their life, business, as well as others around them. I’m a fan of your work now and look forward to reading more. Have a great evening.