Empathize for Connection

So many people are continuing to have conflicts with family members, coworkers and neighbors about being vaccinated or wearing a mask. It’s not easy to navigate.  Using the OASIS Conversation skills has saved relationships. For example, Jeri faced a big family dilemma. Her brother Jim, who chose not to be vaccinated, was feeling isolated and not supported by his family as he prepared for his upcoming wedding. Jeri and several of her siblings did not feel comfortable having Jim and his fiancé visit them and their children. They debated if they would attend the wedding.  The tension grew among the family members with people taking different positions.  After Jeri and her siblings avoided Jim they worried about losing the relationship altogether. On a family group text Jim wrote, “It would be nice to have some support as I plan my wedding” and signed it as “unsupported”. The whole family was suffering amid the turmoil.

While it is our instinct to tell someone with a different view why they are wrong or to not engage, Jeri had the courage to listen. She was able to receive empathy herself from colleagues as she shared her frustration and worry. With this understanding, she was able to shift from being judgmental to curious.

She called her brother and instead of berating him as she felt like doing, she was able to shift from being closed to open. At first her brother was quite defensive and expected her to tell him and his fiancé they were wrong for not being vaccinated. Instead, she said she genuinely was interested in hearing his point of view. While at first surprised and hesitant, he began to share his concerns. Jeri continued to listen and give empathy. For example, she paraphrased and said, “I recognize how sincerely you have thought this through and how it is difficult for you to go against the family and that you feel isolated and not supported.”  She continued to listen. “It must be difficult for you since your fiancé’s family does not feel comfortable with being vaccinated.”  Jeri noticed that Jim relaxed when he felt heard. Jeri felt excited to reconnect with her brother and this ultimately supported the family’s unity.

While they remained with different perspectives, Jim closed by asking Jeri more about her view and said that he could understand her perspective and that he would be open to considering his choice. Jeri was surprised and welcomed his openness. She offered to help with the wedding planning from a distance. 

It is natural to hold our position on an issue when we feel defensive and do not believe others are interested in our point of view. Research supports that when we can be calm and open and really listen with empathy, we are more likely to find common ground and enhance relationships.  With genuine listening and empathy, we can clarify what is most important. Jeri and Jim learned that they both value their family connection.

Practice taking an Open Stance and shift from being closed to open and listen for understanding and connection. Explore the OASIS Conversations process for positive and productive relationships.

​​Benefits of an Open Mindset and Open Stance

Vital benefits of an open mindset and open stance are that you will experience more aliveness, more positive emotions, and better health and wellbeing. Operating with an open mindset enhances our experience and success in life. Most importantly, having an open mindset and stance enhances the quality of our relationships and connections with others. We are naturally more attracted to open people than those who seem to know it all and are self-focused. For example, so-called experts may have little patience with others whom they perceive as less knowledgeable, and thus, they may seem inaccessible or closed. Intentionally or not, they shut people out. Another example we can all relate to is how when we are stressed by deadlines and pressure to get something done, it is harder to be patient and open to others. People sense our stress and lack of tolerance and may shy away and label us closed. On the other hand, when people sense that managers and colleagues are open to new ideas, feedback, and even criticism, they are likely to be more engaged and experience greater satisfaction.

In a project called Aristotle, Google studied many teams to find out the keys to high performance. They discovered the differentiating factor was that people were more engaged and more trusting when they felt psychological safety. This safety resulted from leaders and team members being open to one another, listening to different ideas without judgment. Members of Google’s high-performing teams indicated that they felt they could express their views and opinions and take risks without fear of negative repercussions. When a team member feels their ideas are shut down, they don’t feel valued, respected, or recognized, and they are hesitant to speak up freely in the future. This hurts the team climate and positive relationships. When most people work in teams with various locations, functions, and differences, trust and openness are critical to creating positive and productive cultures and environments where innovation is possible.

When we are closed-minded, we quickly consider ourselves an expert and easily discount new or different information. History is replete with examples of how well-meaning people did not pay attention or adopt new ways of doing things. Many were slow to validate that the world is round, the value of penicillin, or the importance of washing hands to avoid the spread of illnesses in hospitals. Experts simply felt they knew better, so they discounted different ways and appeared closed-minded. When we are open-minded, we freely admit we don’t know what we don’t know and can explore new ideas and perspectives. This openness is quite useful for making effective decisions. Researchers suggest we make thousands of decisions a day. These decisions take energy. When we improve the quality of our decision-making, we can make better decisions and experience positive outcomes. If we have an open mindset, we are likely to consider more aspects of a decision and perhaps be open to others’ views.

After years of studying successful leaders, Al Pittampalli concluded that the archetype of leaders having “strong convictions” of their views and “staying the course” was outdated. He learned that many of the world’s most successful leaders have a willingness to be persuaded—to be open-minded. Many successful leaders build processes where they challenge their thinking and are open to examining new data. They are willing to admit being wrong about an earlier view. In our increasingly complex world, successful leaders see the power of an open mindset and the value of considering emerging evidence to be advantageous. 

Besides, people are more inclined to follow open-minded leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and open to change. It is hard to work for a manager who perceives themselves as always right and is not interested in others’ views, thus appearing to be closed. When people feel they are listened to, their ideas are valued, and they are included, then their motivation, engagement, and wellbeing soar. This difference is particularly critical since research by Gallup consistently suggests that as many as two-thirds of US employees are not engaged in their jobs.

Children also feel shut down and less engaged when they perceive that their teachers, parents, and caregivers are not open to hearing their perspectives and providing empathy. Rather than saying, “Because I am your parent, that’s why….”, caregivers can create more positive relationships and respectful environments by being curious, being open to listening, and being open to being influenced.

A sure sign of being an open-minded leader, parent, or influencer is to inquire and genuinely listen to others’ views and gain understanding. We should each seek feedback and recognize that creativity and innovative solutions can come from anywhere. We all need to recognize that we don’t know what we don’t know and could be wrong in order to manage our natural blind spots of assuming we are open when others may perceive we are not. It is also easy for our egos and sense of identity to be tied to being “right.” We need to remember that during these times of uncertainty, no one has all the answers. It is useful to recognize our own and others’ resistance to change as a natural response. When we appreciate that resistance is natural, and we are open to listening, we can address concerns more readily.

-Excerpted from the forthcoming book, Open Stance: Thriving Amid Differences and Uncertainty