Have you ever been victimised?
Or discriminated against because of your appearance?
Have you ever felt the emotional high-jacking of furious anger?
Or intense romantic passion?
Or soul-destroying grief?
If you have, you can find some solace in the emotional scars by knowing that these traumas have gifted you what is arguably the most in-demand human ability of this century: the ability to empathise.
If you have never felt the splitting pain in your chest from a break up, it will be hard for you to appreciate what the poet means by the phrase “a broken heart.” Reading a novel about romance and intellectualising how the characters are feeling is not the same as knowing it for yourself.
“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced - even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” - John Keats
Empathy is an ability with many different definitions. Most commonly, it is described as understanding how someone feels; to see things from their perspective; “to walk in their shoes.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel how they feel, or that you need to have been through exactly the same situation - it just means that you’ve gone through something very close in the past which would allow you to understand the specific emotional zone they're coming from.
Example: Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand when someone is in pain, sympathy is when you feel bad for them, and compassion is a compelling desire to alleviate their suffering.
Understanding (“I understand how you feel, I read about that in a book once”) Empathy (“I really understand how you feel, I had a similar thing happen to me”) Sympathy (“It breaks my heart to see you like this”) Compassion (“Please tell me, what can I do to help?”)
There's “I understand”...
There’s a big difference between “I understand” and “I understand” as illustrated by Charlie in this Two and a Half Men scene with his brother. (full clip on YouTube here)
Alan: Charlie, when I moved in here I said that it was vital that we create a wholesome atmosphere for my son and you said ‘I understand.’
Charlie: Alan, there’s something you should know about me. When I say ‘I understand’ it doesn’t mean I agree. It doesn’t mean I understand. It doesn’t even mean I’m listening.
Alan: Then why do you say it?
Charlie: [shrugs] It seems to make people happy.
Charlie’s empathy score: 0%
And there's “Oh, I understand”...
Here’s what empathy actually looks like (from later in the same episode):
Judith: [to Charlie] I just got in this terrible fight with my father and he thinks it’s my fault that me and Alan are breaking up… the question is why do I need his approval?
Charlie: Ah… I understand.
Cindy: Charlie, how could you possibly understand? [to Judith] You know, I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to win my father’s approval.
Judith: Oh, you too huh?
Cindy: Yeah, I almost married a guy just because my father liked him.
Cindy’s empathy score: 100%
Charlie’s old-school belief (that emotions are “soft and fluffy” things to be avoided and repressed in the workplace) is now being backed into the corner by the mounting evidence which shows that competence in empathy is fundamental to the world’s best managers.
Needless to say, Charlie would suck as a boss.
"The golden rule for every businessman is this: Put yourself in your customer’s place.” – Orison Swett Marden
Empathy Defined: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.
Empathy is an awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns. In some of his later writings, Goleman called Empathy “social awareness.”
Empathy does not necessarily mean taking the feelings of others on as your own; instead, it is being aware of and considering others’ feelings in all you do.
Empathy builds on self-awareness; the more open we are to our own emotions, the more skilled we will be in reading feelings.
The 5 core components of Empathy are:
1. Understanding Others (sensing others’ feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in their concerns) 2. Developing Others (sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities) 3. Service Orientation (anticipating, recognising and meeting the needs of others) 4. Leveraging Diversity (cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people) 5. Political Awareness (reading a group’s emotional currents and key power relationships)
The "Empath" - the future of work? On average, women tend to score higher than men on measures of empathy, which is probably not a tremendous surprise. As the human race evolves, and as the demands of the environment call for better social attunement to others, we might one day see both sexes become more like the character Deanna Troi from the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation (an “empath” who literally has the ability to sense how others are feeling). Such an ability would certainly come in handy in business.
“A writer writes not because he is educated, but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood.” - Leo Rosten
“We’ve all heard the criticism “he talks too much.” When was the last time you heard someone criticised for listening too much?” - Norm Augustine
“Leadership has less to do with walking in front and leading the way than it does with listening to the needs of the people of the company and meeting them.” - Charles M. Cawley
“I make progress by having people around who are smarter than I am and listening to them. And I assume that everyone is smarter about something than I am.” - Henry J. Kaiser
“Almost all conflict is a result of violated expectations.” - Blaine Lee
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They're either speaking or preparing to speak. They're filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people's lives.” - Stephen Covey