Bellies for empathy

Last week I was on a flight to Shanghai for a coaching engagement when I picked up a copy of the “China Daily”. Flipping through the pages I saw a photo that made me look twice:  these were not women but men. And they were carrying around their big bellies in order to better understand more about how “tough life can be as a pregnant woman”.

I am not sure how effective a few wigs and some extra weight around the midriff for a few hours will be when it comes to letting these men understand the emotional and physical challenges of a pregnancy. But a high-five to them for trying to step into someone else’s “belly”.

Exploring the other person’s perspective is a key element in successfully navigating conflict. It allows us to access and appreciate information that we may have missed before. We can get a better grip on what motivates ‘the other’, and how our previous behavior may have impacted on them.

It can be challenging to exercise our empathy muscles, especially if the topic is emotionally charged. The good news is that this option is accessible to all of us. We can start the process by asking open-ended questions around the “How”, “What”, or “When”.  As long as we come from a mindset of curiosity (rather than judgment), we will find ourselves a step closer to bridging differences and forging alliances.