Empathy is the ability to imagine another’s emotions as they are experiencing them, and to feel as they feel. It is a core trait in a person’s Emotional Intelligence, and invaluable to persons, young and old, in having successful relationships, whether work, school or personal, and in society in general.
"When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems". - Stephen Covey
Empathy is important in our society for many reasons, not least of which is a society’s desire to help others less well off than our own, or in need because of circumstances beyond their control. It can change the dynamics in schools, children who are empathetic are less likely to support or overlook bullying. They are less likely to leave other children out and open to becoming victims of bullies. It allows us to better acknowledge others perspectives, or points of view and be emotionally sensitive during engagements. Our personal relationships are deeper and more satisfying when we develop empathy between us. This is no different in society in general, we see less hostility, and more willingness to find agreement, harmony or at least accept diversity of opinion. In the workforce empathy creates greater collaboration, better communication, more engaged employees, and overall workplace satisfaction.
How do I learn to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”? We can all learn to be empathetic, or more empathetic, and we can especially undertake the important role of helping children develop it. If we have a goal of growth, for ourselves, for our children, or our workforce – empathy will be a critical trait to focus upon and develop. Empathy plays an enormous role in leadership, in mentoring, and in developing solid relationships. It is a trait that promotes influence, warmth, and kindness. Empathy drives inclusiveness, and understanding. Adults possessing empathy quite often become influential in their work and community. They regularly have leadership roles, and are frequently sought as brokers for change and balance. Children are no different, they display the same valuable traits as the adults they emulate. Teachers and those involved with children should extoll its’ virtues, acknowledging the strength of character children show when being empathetic.
Some key attributes in learning to be empathetic:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is obsessed with the idea of empathy, said: “Now, the challenge, though, is you can’t just say—I’ll go to work and turn on my empathy, I’m not even claiming that empathy is innate, it is something that needs to be developed…”
Empathy is not something we are born with. It is taught to our children through us as their parents, teachers and in our community. This is equally true in the workplace, leaders (and this does not by definition mean bosses) influence the role of empathy, and can through influence and practice, teach others to become more empathetic. Empathy positively affects our health, our emotional happiness and our relationships. The Harvard Business Review has named empathy as one of the essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance. Empathy provides real meaning and allows us to thrive in a world that’s becoming more about “me” society and less about “we”.
We live in an era of technology that allows all of us to become quickly disengaged in society, we are super connected via the social network, and becoming much less connected in the real world. To activate empathy, we all need to recognize and express emotions with the people around us. We need to practice making eye contact; we need to listen, and to feel. We need to be learning by observing other’s facial expressions, their physical cues and listening to the tone of their voice. This active participation is so important regardless of whether we are at school, work or out in the community.
“In business... companies that want to survive...are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.” - Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Group.
Our communities, societies, schools, colleges and places of work will only grow in meaningful ways with a solid backbone of empathy present. Relationships flourish, this means couples, friends, colleagues, students and so on. In places of education where our children learn, empathy will produce better, more engaged human beings that will have significant impact on our overall society. These children will become adults, and join other adults in the workplace. Empathy makes the workplace a center of collaboration and trust, teamwork and real customer satisfaction. Your customers want you to empathize with them, to know that you are actively engaged and understand the experience they are dealing with. They want to have solid, real relationships, business partners who really care, who have empathy. We live in a world of people, relationships are unavoidable, and empathy truly makes them shine!
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