Learn about some skills for developing empathy.
- Empathy is a major cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the awareness of and connection to others' feelings, needs, and concerns. Let's clear up one common misunderstanding. Empathy does not mean that you'd feel the same thing if you were in the same situation. For example, they might be feeling anger. But in the same situation, you'd feel neutral or calm. When we miss the boat on empathy, and many well-intentioned people do, it's because we try to connect from how we would feel in the same situation.
We then to disconnecting things like have opinions about their feelings or offer advice about what they should do. Empathy is about connecting to their experience as they feel it. If they're experiencing sadness or grief, tap into your own experience of sadness or grief. If they're feeling anxious, remember times you've felt anxious. I get it, I know how uncomfortable anxiety feels. Here's another way to think of it. Let go of the golden rule, and instead use the platinum rule.
We all remember the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While it's great advice, it's not empathy. Empathy lives in the platinum rule. Do unto others what they would want to have done unto them. Big difference. Crucial difference. When you develop empathy, you'll better satisfy your customer's needs, more effectively support your leaders, and help your coworkers perform at their best. You'll also be a better friend, romantic partner, and parent.
Obviously there's a strong business case for empathy. In addition to the financial return on increased productivity, there's a human return on investment that pays off in loyalty. When people feel truly seen and heard, they become fiercely loyal. The good news is that we are biologically wired to feel empathy for others. Several structures in our brains are dedicated to perceiving facial expressions, hearing vocal cues, and reading body language. That's why we all have had the experience of asking someone how they are, and while they say the words I'm fine, the other clues are telling you that they're not.
Having empathy means you pay attention to these clues and use them as an opportunity for connection. Say something like, I get the feeling that you don't really feel fine. Would you like to talk about this with me? How can I best support you? Then listen. And find a way from your own past to connect with the feelings or experiences that they share with you. Doctor Brene Brown has a great animated short on YouTube about empathy. She says the two most powerful words when we're in struggle are me too.
Being a great leader is about extending empathy to those above, beside, and below you in the organization. And social awareness is about applying empathy to group settings. Reading individuals is one skill and reading a group is another. Every group develops its own persona or culture. It develops social norms for how people should behave. Sometimes these are written in the form of values or policies, but I've seen groups where the written rules are actually the opposite of what really happens.
Having social awareness means that you pick up on the real social norms and expectations, not just the ones that the group says about itself. This is a big part of political awareness and organizational acumen and often requires reading between the lines. As the leader, you'll want to guide and influence the group to having healthier and more productive norms. Finally, remember that some people have physical and mental conditions that affect how they express emotions or how well they can read and respond to emotions of others.
For example, people on the autism spectrum have difficulty in this area. So take time to use the handout in the exercise files. Developing empathy will help you achieve high levels of success in all the other skills of emotional intelligence.
- Analyze the brain science behind emotional intelligence.
- Identify and assess your emotions.
- Determine how to exercise emotional self-control.
- Identify your triggers and how to respond the them.
- Assess how others respond at work.
- Determine how to maximize team performance using emotional intelligence.
- Discover how to catalyze change.