March 11

Why is Empathy Important?

Story

I want to start today with a story. It may be a story that resonates with you. The purpose of the story is to highlight the power of empathy.

Several years ago I had an experience that I never wanted to have. January 1, 2016, I received a call from one of my sons. He asked me to sit down...never a good sign. I could tell he was struggling to tell me something but did not know how to. I encouraged him to just tell me. Then I heard words that rocked my world, "Dad, Nick died today." Nick is my oldest son. I just sat there. At the time, Nick was 33 years old. This was entirely unexpected. In moments like this, the mind races or simply shuts down. I did my best to comfort my son who had called.

NIck

Fast forward a few years. I found myself listening to one of the pastors at our church asking for help with the grief counseling our church provides. They had plenty of women who were willing to help, but no men. I remembered what I went through when I lost my son and how I wished there had been another man to talk to about it. In that moment, I felt a massive wave of empathy wash over me for the men who had lost loved ones and did not have another man to share that grief journey with. I became a grief counselor because I know how devastating a loss like that can be. Most people do not have my background in psychology and emotional intelligence that helped me work through my grief on my own. Yes, my wife was an amazing support for me during this time. She has very high levels of empathy.

 For several years I walked that grief journey with many different people. The skill that allowed me to help them the most...empathy. Sometimes you don't have to say anything, just listen and practice empathy.
empathy is the doorway

Why Empathy

Empathy, a skill and competency of EQ (emotional intelligence), is a doorway to a deeper understanding of other people. If you could understand what someone else is feeling, their perceptions, and what is driving them, would that be helpful in connecting and communicating with them? Absolutely!

How does this help us and why is empathy important? Here are a few critical factors impacted by empathy (or a lack of empathy):

  • Quality relationships
  • Better insight into what others are experiencing
  • The ability to have crucial conversations that bring desired results
  • Increasing leadership effectiveness
  • Collaboration and connection
  • Trust building
 These are just a few areas where empathy practiced can make a huge difference.

Defining Empathy

What is empathy?

Many people confuse sympathy with empathy. An easy way to think of differentiating the two --sympathy is detached, empathy is engaged and involved.

Six Seconds, a global emotional intelligence organization defines empathy as, "Recognizing and appropriately responding to others’ emotions." I would add to that understanding other people's perspective and perceptions. Empathy is a process of being curious, not judgmental. It is an authentic caring about the other person's feelings and perspectives. Roll in some compassion and grace, and you get a better feel for what empathy applied looks like. How well are you listening? Can you understand the situation from the other person's perspective? How do you respond to them? These are great questions to gauge your level of empathy applied.

Measuring Empathy

How can you measure empathy? If you want to grow this skill then starting with a foundation of how much empathy you have is critical. Here are some specific ways to measure empathy:

  • Self-Assessment Tools: Instruments like the Empathy Quotient (EQ) test allow individuals to self-evaluate their empathetic abilities.
  • 360-Degree Feedback: Gathering feedback from peers, subordinates, and superiors provides a comprehensive view of an individual's empathy in various contexts.
  • Behavioral Observations: Observing how individuals respond in different social situations can be an effective way to measure empathy.
  • Psychometric Assessments: Tools like the Six Seconds SEI (Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence) assessment can help in quantitatively assessing empathetic skills.

Empathy Mindset

I talk about empathy as a mindset. It is. It is a choice to think in new and more empathetic ways, increasing your level of empathy applied with other people…and with yourself.

There are specific actions and choices you can make to practice empathy and grow this EQ skill:

  • Be curious instead of judgmental.
  • Check your bias. You may not believe the same things the other person does, but that does not make them less important or worth less respect.
  • Respect is a companion to empathy. If we respect other people it is easier to practice empathy with them.
  • Understand that as well as you know someone, there is still much about them that you may not know:
    • Their current beliefs and the rules they live by
    • Their self-talk
    • Their current emotional environment
    • What personal issues may be impacting them
    • Their stress levels
    • What triggers strong emotions for them
    • What embedded patterns they may have
    • Past experience or trauma in their lives
  • Come up with new patterns for yourself to choose to practice empathy
    • Don't negate the needs of others
    • Take time to connect and understand the other person
    • Believe that you can operate with empathy
    • Come up with a few questions that will open the door to better understanding of the other person's situation, perspective, and feelings
    • Reflect on how you practiced empathy after the interaction

Practicing Empathy

To make this very practical, here are specific ways to practice empathy, and grow the EQ skill of empathy:

  1. Active Listening: Focus on understanding the speaker without interruption or judgment. Reflect on what is being said and respond thoughtfully.
  2. Perspective-Taking: Try to see situations from the other person's point of view, even if it differs from your own.
  3. Emotion Recognition Training: Enhance your ability to recognize and understand others' emotions through facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
  4. Empathy Mapping: This technique involves creating a visual map that explores what others are seeing, hearing, thinking, and feeling.
  5. Role-Playing Exercises: Engaging in scenarios where you assume the role of another person can deepen your understanding of their experiences.
  6. Volunteering and Community Service: These activities can expose you to diverse perspectives and situations, broadening your empathetic understanding.
  7. Mindfulness and Reflection: Practicing mindfulness can improve your presence and attentiveness in interactions, leading to deeper empathy.
  8.  Emotional Regulation Skills: Managing your own emotions effectively can prevent personal feelings from overshadowing the ability to empathize with others.

Empathy is a competency that can be practiced and a skill that can be grown. The greater your capacity and ability to practice empathy, the greater your opportunity to have a more successful and enjoyable life...and to connect with others in more productive and effective ways.

Copyright © 2024 EQFIT® - Author: Steven Goodner. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For permissions contact: info@gscfit.com.


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