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The Most Important Skill That You’re Not Developing - Empathy
When you hear the word empathy, what’s the first thing that you think of? Emotions? A caring mother? A therapist?
While these are all valid associations with empathy, it’s important to know that it is much more than just a feeling, or an act of kindness. It is also the biggest superpower you can bring to your business in 2023.
In my recent conversation with Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder of Take The Lead, a non-profit foundation with the goal of taking women to leadership parity by 2025, we talked about many mind-expanding topics. However, the one idea that really inspired me, and that I wanted to dive deeper into was how empathy is the most important skill you’re not developing.
In this article, I will explain to you what empathy is, why we do not tend to associate it with business, why it is the secret to making your business more successful this year, and I will also give you some tips on how to develop it.
So, without further adieu, let’s get into it!
What Is Empathy?
Simply put, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
It is about putting ourselves in someone else's shoes and attempting to see the world through their eyes. It allows us to see things from their perspective and connect with them on a deeper level.
It is about having the ability to recognize and respond to the emotions of others, which can be particularly useful when it comes to managing a team, working with the public, and being a leader.
Empathy is a vital skill to develop for many reasons, and if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Being able to create a mental model of another person's intent is critical.
For example, if you are the leader of a tribe and an interloper arrives, that could be deadly. Developing sensitivity to the subconscious and emotional signals of the people around you could be life-saving.
Why We Don’t Associate Empathy With Business
Empathy is not something you tend to hear thrown around in business circles a lot. That’s because the idea has become misconstrued, and the power behind the skill has been forgotten.
In business, empathy is often confused as a weakness because it is often associated with emotions. Many people believe that being emotional or "too sensitive" is a weakness, and so they view empathy as a negative trait. However, this is a misunderstanding of what empathy is and how it can be used effectively.
Empathy is not about being emotional or overly sensitive. It is about being able to understand and recognize the emotions of others. It is a cognitive skill that allows us to put ourselves in another person's shoes and see things from their perspective.
Additionally, some people may view empathy as a weakness because they believe it is a sign of weakness to show concern or care for others. They may believe that being tough and indifferent is a sign of strength.
However, this is a narrow and limited view of strength. Empathy is actually a sign of emotional intelligence and maturity, and it takes a strong and confident person to be able to understand and connect with others in this way.
Why Empathy Matters For Business
Empathy is one of the most underrated skills for an entrepreneur or business person to have. It is so much more than just being kind or noticing feelings, it is a way of being, a way of making decisions, and a way of building a rock-solid team.
Empathy helps me understand what makes the people around me who they are – their feelings, their likes and dislikes, their wants and needs, and their insecurities. That uncanny sense of human behavior helps me to understand a lot about my team's needs, the consumer trends we are heading toward, and what that means for us as a society.
When you’re able to effectively use empathy in business, it makes you a better entrepreneur, business owner, or leader. When you’re able to effectively use empathy in life, it makes you a better parent, friend, partner, and all-around human being.
In the business world, empathy is a very valuable strength that improves communication, collaboration, and decision-making. There are a lot of ways empathy can have a direct impact on your business, and we’ll explore some of them below.
One reason why empathy is a strength in business is that it helps to build strong, positive relationships. When we can understand where someone is coming from, we are more likely to be able to connect with them on a deeper level. This can lead to better communication, collaboration, and teamwork.
For example, if an employee is struggling with a personal issue, an empathetic manager may be able to offer support and understanding, which can improve morale and productivity.
Empathy is also important in customer service. When a customer is upset or frustrated, an empathetic employee may be able to de-escalate the situation by showing understanding and concern.
Customers are more likely to be satisfied when they feel understood and supported, so this can lead to a better overall experience for the customer. Improved customer experience also improves customer loyalty and retention.
In addition to improving relationships, empathy can also be a key factor in decision-making. When we are able to understand the perspective of others, we are better able to consider the potential impact of our actions on them. This can lead to more ethical and responsible decision-making, which can improve a company's reputation and long-term success.
By understanding and connecting with others, we can build stronger relationships, improve customer satisfaction, and make more ethical and responsible decisions.
Balancing Empathy with Self-Discovery
The benefits of being an empathetic leader cannot be overstated, however, as with almost everything, moderation is king. There are times when it is important to balance out empathy with letting people figure things out on their own, especially in a business context.
For example, if two of my employees are having a disagreement or a conflict, I might feel empathetic and know exactly what answers would improve their situation. However, sometimes I want to give them the opportunity to figure it out for themselves and have them go through that learning process.
Being a leader comes down to not only having a giant toolbelt of skills and techniques, but knowing when is best to use them.
Broader Impact of Empathy
Developing empathy is essential to creating a more civil society, as it allows us to truly understand each other, and work together more effectively. Empathy is a key factor in forming and maintaining relationships, and this has a huge effect on our broader communities.
Communities and organizations can create opportunities for people to come together and engage in meaningful conversations about issues that affect them. This can include forums, roundtables, and other events that foster understanding and empathy among citizens.
Finding ways to increase empathy in society and have it become part of our everyday existence is very important.
The recent advances in technology can be leveraged to do just that. In particular, social media can be used to encourage empathy and understanding between people from different walks of life. Technology can also be used to create simulations and virtual reality experiences that allow people to experience life from the perspective of another person.
How much better of a place would the world be if we truly understand each other on a deeper level?
How To Cultivate Empathy
First, it’s important to recognize that empathy is a skill that can be learned and developed over time. Like every skill, it doesn’t just happen overnight; it requires effort, practice, and dedication.
It also requires an understanding of how your own feelings and experiences influence your ability to understand and appreciate the feelings of others.
Active listening: This means engaging with the other person, making eye contact, and really listening to what they have to say. Don’t just hear the words; try to understand the feelings behind them.
This can help you understand where the other person is coming from, and it can help you better appreciate their perspective.
Self-awareness. This means being mindful of your own thoughts and feelings and how they might be influencing your ability to be empathetic. Pay attention to your emotional reactions during the day, and try to understand where they are coming from.
Practice self-compassion: Self-compassion involves treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding that we would offer to a friend. This can involve things like speaking to ourselves in a compassionate way, rather than being overly critical or offering ourselves grace when we make mistakes.
Seek feedback: Asking for feedback from others can be a valuable way to gain insight into how our actions and behaviors are perceived by others. By seeking feedback, we can learn how to better understand and respond to the needs and concerns of those around us.
Mindfulness training: Practicing mindfulness can help you to be more aware of your own feelings as well as those of the people around you. The more in tune and in the moment you can be with another person, the more empathy you can have.
Cultivate empathy at work: Empathy can be fostered in workplaces. Employers can create an environment of understanding and respect in the workplace, where employees are encouraged to view differences among colleagues as an opportunity for learning, collaboration, and problem-solving.
The Most Important Piece: Empathy For Yourself
Finally, the most important piece of empathy that you can develop, is empathy for yourself. While empathy is often focused on the emotions of others, it is important to remember that empathy starts with you.
Empathy for oneself, also known as self-empathy or self-compassion, involves the ability to recognize and respond to one's own emotions in a kind and understanding way.
Self-empathy is an essential component of emotional intelligence and is crucial for leading a healthy and fulfilling life. It allows us to recognize and validate our own emotions, rather than ignoring or suppressing them.
This can be particularly important in times of stress or hardship, as self-empathy helps us to cope with difficult emotions in a healthy way.
Self-empathy is also important for our relationships with others. When we can empathize with ourselves, we are better equipped to understand and respond to the emotions of others in a compassionate way. This can lead to stronger, more meaningful relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
As you can see, empathy is not just what it appears on the surface, it is a much more nuanced, and much more important skill than most people realize.
I was really happy Gloria brought this topic up in our recent talk, as I truly believe it is one of the best things you can focus on for your business this upcoming year.
Now that you know what empathy is and why we’ve been avoiding it, you can start to cultivate it using the steps outlined. Once you do that, you will immediately see how it helps you build stronger relationships, improves your customer service, and helps you make better decisions.
That’s it for now – let’s go build some empathy!
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