Empathy expands our perceptions beyond direct experience and into the viewpoint of other people. Using empathy, we ride along with our favorite film or book characters and learn from their ordeals. We grieve, laugh, and emerge victorious right along with them.
However, empathy’s benefits extend far beyond entertainment into all areas of life. It improves relationships, communication, and self-confidence.
Some Define Empathy as Weakness
A highly empathic person entering a room of happy children will take in the joy and playfulness and leave uplifted. That same person at a funeral or in a contentious courtroom could leave feeling physically ill. In a world full of pain, people fear the potential burden.
Fortunately, as empathy is developed and practiced, emotional intelligence also grows. We become better masters of emotion and learn to mitigate the influence of others.
Most families, churches, and schools train us to suppress and deny our emotions. The positive purpose is to fit into a structured social world. However, the side effects of living with a heavy burden of suppressed emotion – such as addiction, compulsion, anxiety, depression, and illness – are costly.
Because of this social training, some people define empathy as vulnerability. The opposite is true. Emotional awareness strengthens communication and helps keep a clear mind. Empathy includes challenges, but it is also the key that unlocks our true potential.
Empathy Makes Quality Leaders
Too much empathy for everyone all the time is an exhausting burden. Judiciously applied, seeing through another’s eyes or walking in their shoes provides incredible insight on how to support them and what they can contribute.
In The Diamond Cutter, Geshe Michael Roach recalls a talented young employee at a large diamond company. The employee was the best at his job, but unhappy. As his manager, Michael Roach took the time to speak with him and listen carefully. Later, he imagined being inside the employee’s perspective.
Inspired by this simple application of empathy in leadership, the company offered to pay for computer classes after work. By doing this, they not only kept a quality employee motivated, but he also became their top IT expert.
Personal expertise and ability are integral to leadership. However, effective management is accomplishing work through others. Empathy helps a leader motivate and inspire each member of the team.
Empathetic Communication Solves Problems
Imagine talking to a teenager distracted by his or her smartphone. Relaying a message to someone who will not give you full attention is frustrating. It requires effort and repetition. Their preoccupation narrows or blocks the communication channel.
Contrast that to comfortably sharing with a best friend or confidant who listens with acceptance and caring. An empathetic listener inspires us to open up. As we speak honestly and feel heard, new ideas emerge and possible solutions reveal themselves.
Empathetic people receive benefits from their sensitivity. They create deeper bonds with others. Feeling heard and accepted enhances self-esteem and self-worth for both parties. Open, two-way communication is a catalyst for change.
Empathy Spawns Win-Win Success
If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own. –Henry Ford
Effective sales is about solving problems. We feel at ease with salespeople and companies who understand us.
Emotions associated with empathy such as curiosity, openness, and appreciation build trust. Empathy provides the insight to ask probing questions. In a sales process, it allows the salesperson to take each step toward the product or solution at the right time, and in a manner that feels good to their customers.
In any situation, an empathetic understanding of the goal clears the way for a win-win solution.
Empathy Is Human
People who lack empathy can be very selfish. They think about their gain without thinking about others. They may justify taking advantage of situations and people for their benefit.
Individuals without much empathy don’t respect the reciprocity that is natural between friends. They will give something to get something, but for their benefit and not truly for the other person. Manipulating others for selfish reasons can become a way of life.
Empathy is a component of compassion. It encompasses states such as sensitivity, vulnerability, willingness, respect, appreciation, and intimacy. When we are willing to admit to our flaws, we tend to be more patient with the flaws of others. Our self-acceptance bolsters their self-acceptance.
A palpable but invisible force, empathy fuels happy and prosperous families, communities, classrooms, and companies. Empathy is the glue that holds humanity together.