Empathy sometimes gets a bad rap as soft skill which is too fluffy to matter in business. But in reality it can be the pathway to hard results. Empathy is important to success and it can help you at work. Here’s how.
First, it’s important to know empathy is a capability we all have—perhaps to greater or lesser degrees—that allows us to put ourselves in the place of another person and experience their feelings. We all crave connectedness and it seems our brains are hard-wired to mirror others’ experiences. Research shows children as young as two demonstrate understanding that others have different perspectives than their own. Even babies prefer to hear sounds from other babies rather than older voices—evidence of our human desire for affinity and alignment.
Benefits of Empathy
There are important benefits of empathy.
Identity: Empathy affects our own identity. We tend to understand ourselves through the people we spend time with and we derive our sense of self from the types of people with whom we have the closest relationships.
Cooperation: Empathy also facilitates cooperation which is critical for teams to function effectively. In a new study, when empathy was introduced into decision making, it increased cooperation and even caused people to be more empathetic. Empathy fostered more empathy.
Innovation: Empathy can expand your horizons and extend your thinking. By understanding an unfamiliar point of view, you can stretch and test new perspectives and ideas—a process key for successful innovation and important to ensuring your thinking doesn’t stagnate.
Influence: In addition to the benefits of empathy to the community, empathy is also good for you individually because it can help you sell and influence others. Putting yourself in others’ shoes and understanding their perspectives facilitates discussion. Empathy also allows you to use their perspective as a common starting point toward influencing them to your point of view.
Empathy is important especially when you disagree with others and it can admittedly require effort. In addition, it is easier to empathize when you are similar or when you share things in common with another person. But is it perhaps more important and beneficial when your empathy lets you see something different than your own view and learn from another perspective. Empathizing may not change your mind, but it can help you appreciate others and connect in new ways.
Empathy and Action
There are two ways to empathize. You can empathize by considering someone else’s thoughts (“If I were in his/her position, what would I be thinking right now?”)—cognitive empathy. You can also focus on another person’s feelings (“Being in his/her position would make me feel ___”). This is known as emotional empathy. Of course, the gold standard of giving consideration to others’ perspectives is to ask them about it directly according to this study—but short of that, it is helpful to imagine what they must be going through. Ultimately, either cognitive or emotional empathy benefits identity, influence, cooperation and expanded thinking.
Regardless of the type of empathy you’re exercising, perhaps most important is action. All that understanding of someone else’s situation should turn into compassion and deeds. Empathy in action is understanding a colleague’s struggles and offering to help. It is appreciating a coworker’s point of view and engaging in a healthy debate that builds to a better solution. It is considering a team member’s perspectives and making a new recommendation that helps achieve greater success for the group. As the popular saying goes, people may not remember your actions, but they will remember how you made them feel. Through empathy, you can ensure your actions—which may be forgotten—contribute to positive feelings and experiences that are memorable in the long term. In addition, by building strong relationships you’ll create positive outcomes for yourself as well.
Use empathy to sell ideas, connect with colleagues, accomplish more in a team and expand your own perspectives. Soft skill? Not if you value hard outcomes.
Source: Think Empathy is a Soft Skill? Think Again. Why You Need Empathy for Success
By Tracy Brower, Contributor
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