Empathy is often described as the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person. Some people argue that as much as we try to do this, it can be a challenge if you have never had a similar experience. Certainly this is a valid comment but like any other aspect of effective communication it is possible to learn the skills of empathy if truly committed. We all have imagination and the ability to listen and depending on your intention it is possible to understand another person’s situation – their perspectives, emotions, actions (reactions) – and communicate this to the person.

Empathy is an Emotional Intelligence (EI) competency. In the field of Emotional Intelligence, Goldman’s original framework consisted of five dimensions:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self- Regulation
  • Self-Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Relationship Management

Why bother developing Empathy?

Empathy is critical for leadership
Research has shown that what employees want is to feel like their manager listens to them. When leaders really listen, using empathy to understand what the person is thinking or feeling without trying to offer solutions or strategies to solve their problem this is when people feel valued. Empathy creates safety and when people are free to be themselves, they are much more likely to be motivated and productive.

Empathy enables shared team learning
Without empathy, people tend to go about life focused on what is happening for them. Without empathy, team learning is simply not possible. Each of us has differing perspectives and if we cannot move from our own perspective, we fail to truly learn and to share. Without taking a moment to listen, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale and even divorce. People do not feel heard and importantly not understood.

Empathy builds a healthy workplace culture
Empathy reflects a person’s ability to connect with others and to relate to them which is an essential skill in building and managing healthy relationships. Without the ability to understand what another is going through, true connection is impossible and relationships not only remain superficial but also have the capacity to become toxic.

Challenges to Empathy
Empathy requires effort – it requires us to pay attention. Too often we are busy doing our own thing, pushing our own agenda.  So we don’t often have the time to pay attention to what others are thinking or feeling. Our own needs can also get in the way and being totally present for another can be a challenge. Our ego can also get in the way and we can find ourselves quick to offer solutions rather than using questioning techniques to assist others to reach their own solutions. Often people think they are empathetic but most of us are listening at a passive level, still planning what we want to say in response. Empathy is a choice. We have to choose to improve, to care, to get out of our own position and to connect with others.

If you want to learn more about empathy and have an opportunity to practice this skill, join our Choices program in May 2014. Contact us for more information!