Have you ever taken any personality tests?
The one that I like the best is the Gallop Strength Test. This Assessment measures your talents and categorises them into 34 different themes. It is the combination of these themes that makes you unique. One in 33 million unique.
The premise is that instead of trying to work on the things that you are not strong at, your focus should be on the top 5, to do more with what you are naturally good at.
Below, I have listed my top 5 and what they mean in my CV, along with my three guiding values – collaboration, kindness and making a difference.
If you know me, you will know that these are very accurate perception of who I am and how I function.
However, I recently had a further training session with a Clifton Strength Mentor where we dug even deeper into the results. In this training, we specifically looked at the five themes that were rated at the bottom of my 34 themes. The idea being that when you recognise and understand your natural weaknesses, you can work on strategies to ensure that they don’t trip you up.
It might surprise you to learn that empathy was in my bottom five.
Second from the bottom to be exact!
I was surprised too! I am empathetic! I discussed the findings with my husband. And he gave me one of the looks with no words that told me, he was not surprised by the finding.
Of course, I blamed my upbringing.
As a product of my parents’ generation, I was always taught to always look on the bright side.
Here are a few examples:
“Mum, my shoes are too tight!”
“Be thankful you have feet.”
“Dad, I have a sore knee.”
“Ok, we will chop off your leg.”
“Mum, I don’t feel very well.”
“You’ll be right. Let me know when you stop breathing.”
And yes, I also recognise that I may have said similar things to my children.
Empathy is often confused with kindness. And I am kind. This is one of my guiding values.
Empathy is also confused with sympathy. These two things are quite different. The difference is being able to understand another’s suffering, as opposed to understanding another’s feelings.
Empathy should be recognised as a really powerful tool in your communication tool belt.
And like all skills, some people are naturally competent in communicating with empathy. For others, like myself, it is a skill that has been learnt and must be practised daily in my conversations with others. Understanding how to respond with empathy, for me, means that I know how to respond in a way that truly expresses how I feel.
Let me give you an example, pre-empathy training. An older client tells me that the reason that they have not been coming recently to my classes is that their husband, who has had dementia and been in a home, has recently passed away. Of course, this is incredibly sad and I want to respond in a way that reflects my kindness. But I am at a loss of what to say. I am embarrassed by my loss of words, or worse I say something that is inappropriate.
So perhaps it should not have been such a surprise that empathy was at the bottom of my natural talents.
However, I have over the years invested heavily into improving this skill set. A few years ago, I completed the Brené Brown Dare to Lead Leadership course. I have read (and re-read) many of her books over the years. This intensive training gave me the tools I needed to develop my empathetic skillset.
Over time, I have learned some short-cuts. Some of this is understanding when I am about to fall into non-empathetic communication fuck ups. It’s a guide to help me find the right words to say, even when I can’t begin to understand another’s situation, because it is so far from my own life experiences. Now I know how to reply empathetically when someone shares with me their circumstances, that I have no experience to draw from.
In my many years of experience working with hundreds of exercise professionals, I have seen many kind trainers who are also poorly equipped to communicate with empathy.
Here are some classic examples of the start of sentences
“Oh. Your posture is really bad…”
“You shouldn’t (insert activity) eg: jump / run / hop / skip …”
“Don’t do … “
If you are the listener – chances are you don’t hear the rest of the sentence.
In fact, it is the throwaway comments that our clients often internalise and take on as their new truth.
“My posture is bad”
“I can’t do this or that”
“I’ve been told that I should not do …”
It can take a long time to undo the damage of internalising these beliefs. And it may stop people from exercising, believing that they are too injured, too inept or plain just not good enough. We are complicated beings, but the power of language is not to be underestimated.
And that is why I now include empathetic training as an absolute must in my education. If you have natural empathetic talents, it will be a good reminder of why some phrases and expressions have better outcomes than others.
I now know that empathy is not necessarily the natural skill set of all people.
And while most people who enter the fitness industry do so with ultrinsic visions of helping others, they (like me) may not be able to communicate with empathy naturally. But with some guidance, awareness and practical application practice – anyone can learn to communicate with empathy like a natural. That is why I include my Empathetic Training in all my major education courses.
Recently, I have re-imagined and re-written the education for the Living Longer Living Stronger program. During COVID, COTA invested in a Learning Management System which has allowed us to reduce our 2 day instructor training to just 1 day face to face and to teach the theory online.
An important piece of this online curriculum is the Foundation course. This is the ultimate toolkit to work with older adults. This includes my empathetic training, but it also has an Inclusivity module. It maps out how to work with older adults who also identify with disability, LGBTQAI+, CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Living Longer Living Stronger is COTA’s Strength and balance training program for older adults. If you would like to be involved in becoming a provider or an instructor of the program, please get in touch.
If you would like to attend our next scheduled training in Victoria – on Saturday 24 April, you can find out HERE. We also have Instructor training happening in NSW on Saturday 29 May at Meadowbank TAFE you can find out more about that here
Communicating with empathy can improve your communication skills and your client’s results significantly.
It’s a skill well worth your time investing in.
If you enjoyed this blog – you might also enjoy a favourite recipe that I make every time I run training – click on the image below!