Everyone sees things differently, and yet we often assume that people share our same perspectives. With such assumptions, you may conclude that someone else should also behave like you would or hold your beliefs. Unfortunately, these assumptions are often wrong and can cause us to have less empathy and understanding of another person’s situation.
The good thing is that with a little mindset tinkering, you can train yourself to be more empathetic. Here are three approaches to help you do just that.
Consider the impartial third story
In any conflict between two people, there are two sides to the story. Then there is the third story, the story that a third, impartial observer would recount. Forcing yourself to think as an impartial observer can help you in any conflict situation, including difficult business negotiations and personal disagreements.
Imagine a complete recording of the situation, and then try to think about what an outside audience would say was happening if they watched or listened to the recording. What story would they tell? How much would they agree with your story? With the third story, you can see a situation for what it really is and get a better understanding overall.
Choose the most respectful interpretation
Another tactical model that can help you empathize is the most respectful interpretation or MRI. In any situation, you can explain a person’s behavior in many ways. MRI asks you to interpret the other party’s actions in the most respectful way possible, giving people the benefit of the doubt.
Even though you may not know the full truth, using the MRI approach to a situation will help you build trust with those involved rather than destroy it. Building trust pays dividends over time, especially in difficult situations where that trust can serve as a bridge toward an amicable resolution.
Don’t jump to malice
The third way of giving people the benefit of the doubt for their behavior is called Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.” A likely explanation for any person’s action, including harmful ones, is that they took the path of least resistance. That is, they carelessly created the negative outcome, but they didn’t cause the outcome out of malice.
Hanlon’s razor is especially useful for navigating connections in the virtual world. For example, since the signals of body language and voice intonation are missing in this realm, harmless lines of text can be read negatively. Hanlon’s razor says the person probably just didn’t take enough time and care in crafting their message.
In the circumstances where malice is intended, empathy should still be our response. Research has found that the key to ending online hate speech is by using empathy as a tool, with it being the most successful strategy to persuade users to delete harmful content.