Good teammates have an uncanny ability to empathize. They are hyperaware of their teammates’ emotions and can slide into their teammates’ shoes with the precision of a forensic psychologist.

Recognizing what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes is vital to healthy team dynamics. Empathy creates understanding, reduces conflict, and strengthens bonds. The more I analyze the art of being a good teammate, the more I realize how effective good teammates are at conveying their empathy.

Whenever I come to one of these realizations, I feel compelled to share what I have learned. This was the original purpose of the Teammate Tuesday blog.

Let’s use the following hypothetical situation as an example: A teammate vents to you about something hurtful that another teammate said to him. You understand why he is upset, and you appreciate his frustration. However, you also understand that he took what was said out of context and is making too big of an issue of the situation.

Your advice is for your teammate to move on and let it go. Most would accept this to be a reasonable response, including good teammates. But before good teammates respond, they take one additional step: They state their empathy.

They articulate their assessment of the person’s emotions before they dispense their advice. For instance, they might respond to the example above by saying, “You are upset. What was said hurt you, and I understand why you are frustrated. But my advice is for you to move on and let it go.”

Even though those emotions may seem obvious, good teammates still state them.

Why? Because doing so reduces the probability of their response being taken the wrong way. Their response could be perceived as welcomed advice. It could also be perceived as insensitive criticism.

Good teammates don’t want their response to add to the frustration. They want it to ease the tension.

A military axiom advises commanding officers to give orders that cannot be misinterpreted. Preceding a response by stating your empathy falls under the same heading. You make it clear to your teammates that you understand their emotional state.

By offering a brief recap, you validate their emotions and let them know you cared enough to put yourself in their shoes before passing judgment. Don’t assume they realize you’ve done this. State your empathy and remove all doubt.

This simple gesture can have a huge impact on how well you’re able to connect with your teammates. They will be far more likely to trust what you say to them when they know you understand how they are feeling.

If you are the type of person who struggles to empathize, try incorporating the technique of stating your empathy into your interactions. It will improve your ability to empathize and will make you a better teammate.

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is a leading authority on the good teammate mindset. He is a college basketball coach turned author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.


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