Stop Blocking the Aisle!

There are two types of people in this world. Those who move their shopping trolley to the side when they are looking on the shelves to allow others to pass, and those who don’t!

You are either oblivious to the fact that this is a problem, or it really gets your blood boiling when someone is so caught up in their own world that they neglect to see the the blockage they have caused and the impact to the other shoppers who are all there to do the same thing. It gets even more frustrating when you pass them, or try to pass them, in every aisle because you are going in the same direction!

Can you guess which one I am? (Deep breath, count to ten, calm down big fella it is just shopping…)

The trait that the ‘good’ shopper has is a little something called Empathy.

Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. So, in my example of the shoppers, the person who moves their trolley out of the way is able to put themselves in the position of the other shoppers around them and understand that they will have a better experience if they simply move their trolley to the side so other shoppers can pass by.

Emotional intelligence author, Daniel Goleman, along with many other researchers consistently identified empathy as a core component of emotional intelligence and a powerful predictor of success in many professions. Empathy helps us develop deep levels of rapport and trust.

Having poor empathy skills can lead to serious consequences – from simple misunderstandings, to long term feuds. Marriage breakdowns, road rage, the incitement of violence can all come when people with poor empathy skills clash.

Before you read any further, a couple of disclaimers… If I have recently passed by you in the supermarket, which happens frequently, and you are now wondering “is he writing about me?” I am not. And if you think I believe that those who don’t move their trolley are to blame for all that is wrong in the world, then let me re-assure you, that is also not the case. In fact, there have been moments that I have been so lost in my own world that I have blocked an aisle or two in my time.

Having said that, it is not all bad news for the aisle blockers, and occasional aisle blockers like me.

Empathy can be learned. But just like trolleys in an aisle, there are some roadblocks to learning how to be more empathetic. David F Swink gives us advice on how to bypass those road blocks in his ‘Psychology Today’ entitled: ‘I don’t feel your pain: Overcoming roadblocks to empathy.’ The following is an excerpt from that article:

Roadblock 1:

Not Paying Attention

Mirror neurones that helps us reflect back actions we observe in others kick in strongest when observing a person’s emotions. We see facial expressions, eye expressions, body position, and gestures. We may lack motivation to give any attention to a person or we may be too distracted by our own thoughts or by things around us while we are multi-tasking.

The Solution: Remove distractions while in a conversation. Put your phone or device away, don’t have your emails open, practice active-listening. Daniel Goleman says “The more sharply attentive we are, the more keenly we will sense another person’s inner state.”

Roadblock 2:

Feeling the emotion of another person but not knowing how or when to communicate empathetically.

The Solution: Increase your awareness of your non-verbal expressions. Notice what you are doing non-verbally when you are interacting with others. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback on how you have presented in especially emotional situations. Try saying the sentence, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” in several different ways with various voice tones. See if you can tell which one sounds more empathetic.

Roadblock 3:

Not feeling the same emotion of the other person but knowing intellectually that you need to communicate empathetically. This is known as Cognitive Empathy.

The Solution: Know that you can disagree with someone and still understand what they may be feeling and why. This is especially important when someone is having a strong emotion and is asking you to do something that you can’t do.

Sometimes just listening without judgement is enough to convey cognitive empathy. Communicate to the person in an authentic way that you understand what they are experiencing.

Empathy is one of the building blocks of social intelligence. Stress, self-absorption, and lack of time can gang up on empathy and kill it. Knowing what your empathy roadblocks are and exploring ways to overcome them can help you develop a tool that is vital for your success at school, home, work and life and, at the very least, will allow us all to have a much more pleasant experience when we are doing the weekly shopping!