Friday 1 August 2014

Tip 12: Useless communication – and why it’s a good thing!

This week, a journalist writing in The Guardian newspaper questioned the Labour leader's 'politics of empathy', saying that it means nothing without effective policies. "I don't want a dentist who can feel my pain", says the journalist, "I want one who can remove it". In one way, I agree with him: empathy is always 'useless' - but THAT is the whole point!

Now is the time to choose your dentist! Of course you want a dentist (or a doctor) who will remedy what is wrong. But assuming they all have the same degree of skill, my guess is you would prefer somebody who cares how you feel, and genuinely wants you to get better ...?

Criticising empathy because 'by itself' it has no useful outcome is rather like criticising a phone because 'by itself' it can't hold a conversation. The phone is only the means of creating the conversation, it's not about the wacky plans you make when you finally get through.

Empathy is not all about feeling (something the journalist doesn't realise); in fact, it's mostly about understanding. When I genuinely understand your needs, I'm more likely to find the right solution for you, and you are more likely to trust me. Empathy is a means for connecting with other people, it's not the ends itself.

So my tip this month is to separate the way you connect from the outcomes you are after. In other words:
  • Make your communication 'useless'!
  1. Make sure you connect with other people genuinely - connection is only real when it happens for its own sake.
  2. Notice when you add your own agendas - and be honest about them. If you are being-nice-with-an-agenda, people will smell a rat! If you try to 'win friends' in order to 'influence people', you aren't just being friendly. If you are listening so that somebody will listen to in return, you aren't just listening. So be aware of your own needs, and include them openly.
  3. Be 'useless' effectively! - Once you have created a connection watch out for 'action energy'. Once people feel heard and understood, they naturally want to move forward. Watch out for the forward-moving energy, and make sure you are ready to move forward too. Now is the time to change the world!

EXERCISE: Practise making connections - with anybody

Every day we have countless opportunities to connect. Don't wait for the big moments, practise on small things ...

Just now, I am practising with my friend Simon's dog! Khyo is an unexpected visitor (that's short for Khyvruan, 'Misty', in Gaelic), as I'm looking after him while Simon is away. 

Connection brings natural partnership. Nobody 'wins' or 'loses' because you tune in to all the underlying needs - yours and other people's (or in this case, other animals'). 


Out for my first jog this morning with Khyo, there came a point when I decided to turn back. But Khyo had other ideas! 


Sensing in to my own needs, I knew I was fine to continue a little further with him. I could resonate with his joy as he explored this sunny, sniff-per-second riverbank. 


Two minutes later, though, I knew I'd had enough. With complete ease, he turned around with me and came home. Our warm connection created ease and harmony - and the outcome at each point flowed from that.

Follow me here on Twitter to see how Khyo and I get on ...

By Elizabeth English


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  3. Thanks for your comments! I am not writing these blogs just now, but it inspires me to think of doing them again one day!