You know that you’re at the edge of your personal mental paradigm or boundary of belief about any topic when you start to feel a bit uncomfortable, challenged, and ready to react.

If someone makes a comment that opposes your personal belief about politics, current affairs, religion, family, sport, work or whatever the topic, it’s very easy to have what they are saying ‘filtered’ by your boundary of belief or thought.

And, it is sometimes when we are at the edge of our boundaries of belief or thought, when what we know to be our truth is being challenged, that our greatest opportunities to learn and grow may occur.

If however we are typically in conversations without a clear intention of wanting to have empathy for the views of others, our filters will be at their strongest, and the opportunities for learning and growth will be minimised.

I saw this quote from the philosopher Roman Krznaric on Maria Popova’s wonderful website Brain Pickings

“Empathy isn’t just something that expands your moral universe. Empathy is something that can make you a more creative thinker, improve your relationships, can create the human bonds that make life worth living.”

Ellen Langer, in her book Mindfulness, outlines her research into the power of mindful awareness of the conversations we have and the power of thinking with intention. The clarity of thought that intentional empathy can provide opens the pathway for opportunities of new understanding that are typically blocked when we listen and converse without intention.

In their brilliant book on the science of dialogue in leadership, The Balancing Act, Ron McMillan and his colleagues explain what can happen when we fall into the trap of the Fundamental Attribution Error. This is when we attribute blame to a person for their thinking or actions without applying rational, reasonable and intentional thinking on the assumptions we have made about their thinking or actions.

By asking “Why might a reasonable person think this way or act in that way?” we approach others with more intentional empathy and take the opportunity to check on our assumptions.

This can lead to a better understanding of others’ points of view and actions. Now this may not necessarily change our way of thinking or the way we would choose to act. However, in some cases, adopting intentional empathy might just give us that moment of opportunity to widen our mental filters and barriers to broaden our understanding and to learn and grow in ways we might have unintentionally missed.