David Wray

CommunicationInfluenceLeadershipSkillsTips

Empathy is a Life Skill!

Empathy, a Life Skill
Empathy a Life Skill (Credit: Baloo)

Empathy, a life skill

You are told that you lack empathy or are insensitive to others. Perhaps this spurs you on to realize this skill is important if you want to lead teams or projects. Empathy is a skill which, like any other, is learned and needs practice.

At its core, empathy is the ability to recognize emotions in other people and to understand their perspective on a situation. Empathy can empower you to uplift another’s mood, frame of mind or to support them through a challenging moment.

Why does this matter? Quite simply, in business if you can understand the emotions of others then you have the ability to resolve conflicts, build more productive teams, and improve your relationships with colleagues, customers or anyone really. Of course, the skill is equally valuable in personal relationships!

Let’s use an example to illustrate. Imagine that you are in a meeting with three leaders from sales, finance, operations and yourself from the legal team. You’re all gathered to hear important sales news. Acme customer wants to increase their purchases by 50% starting in four days and running for the next 12 months. The CEO is happy with the sales win, but enthusiasm in the meeting quickly wanes. The operations team has no idea how they are going to ramp up to meet the manufacturing and supply increase so quickly. Your team (legal) is already juggling several other customer contract negotiations. And, finance foresees resource constraints because of this customer’s special invoicing needs. In that moment, the sales leader testily answers: “Well, you’ll all need to make it happen or you can explain to the CEO why you failed to deliver on the company’s largest sales win this year!”

The sales leader’s response lacked empathy. Why? What should the approach have been?

Stages of empathy

There are three stages of empathy according to psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman:

  1. Cognitive: ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking
  2. Emotional: ability to share the feelings of another person
  3. Compassionate: goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings: it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can

Using the earlier example, let’s see how this might play out when practicing empathy. 

Cognitive – the sales leader would be thinking about what each of the functional leaders is going through. What are their pressure points? What has been tried to alleviate them? How might their team change as a result of this customer transaction?

Emotional – the sales leader is tapping into themselves for a relatable memory or experience when resource constraints severely tax the ability to deliver! Connecting with this relatable experience would allow the sales leader to feel as each functional leader likely feels.

Compassionate – now the sales leader is driven to take action. S/he might offer to fund additional contractor resources for the special billing processes needed, or to cover the costs from his budget to outsource contract negotiation for the amendment or offer sales support resources into operations to help cover the temporary peak in demand.

Let’s come back to the example and see how an empathetic response results in better relationships and outcomes.

Rather than a testy answer, what if s/he said:

“Folks, I know you are each facing unique resource challenges. Let’s talk through each one and see what we can do as a team to alleviate the pressure points.”

This simple opening approach would have unlocked goodwill in each participant to start finding a solution together.

Putting empathy into action

Next time you are struggling to understand where the other person is coming from, keep the following things in mind: 

  1. You never have a complete picture, no matter how well you know someone. Each person deals with many events, factors and circumstances which we’re unaware of. 
  2. Your view about a situation may be quite different and influenced by many things, including your mood right now!
  3. When dealing with emotional stress events, you could well behave in a very different way than you expected you would. 

By remembering these simple points, you will be more open to the view of the other person. That in turn will influence how you deal with them. In reality, each of us goes through our own struggle at some point. So, it’s just a matter of time before we need this level of understanding ourselves. 

What’s Next?

Sign into the Member Section and share your views, tips and tricks.

Give it a try!

 

Have any Question or Comment?

10 comments on “Empathy is a Life Skill!

[…] Practicing detachment and compassion. I realize that you might be thinking: Are you serious! How can I have compassion for someone who makes my life difficult? This is possible by remembering that overly critical individuals tend to be self-critical as well. A self-talk example: “I’ve got to get this project over the line, otherwise I will be a total failure”. Such situations call for empathy. […]

[…] along with an understanding of why the issues are occurring. Through this newfound insight and empathy (for their situation), you will deepen relationships and prevent future […]

[…] Put yourself in the shoes of the speaker (be empathetic) […]

[…] varying degrees of chaos and stress with the pandemic. It simply means be particularly empathetic and put yourself in the shoes of the other person in the time and place they […]

[…] this simple non-confrontational and empathetic opening, Tanuj has started to build trust which creates the space for a dialogue. He could continue […]

[…] anxiety, polarization and division. Leaders and individuals alike can avert this by showing empathy, listening, engaging in dialogue and by supporting each other. All of these […]

[…] about an individual perpetuate the underlying issue, which I explain more fully in Empathy is a Life Skill. In particular, I share three key reasons that assumptions are […]

[…] Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of others by recognizing and openly admitting that change risks are real. Recognizing and accepting change is the first step towards managing it. If your big idea goes sideways, the price may be paid by others, so empathy is important. […]

[…] options each require an empathetic approach; that is an open mind and a compassionate and supportive tone. The bottom line is we have […]

[…] opens the mind to learning, reflecting, adapting, and changing – all attributes found in empathy and conflict […]

Go for it, leave your ideas and views here for discussion!

Stay Informed and one step ahead

Tips and tricks are shared through Blog posts and in the Community Area – join the conversation and share your own. Make a difference too!

Use the easy way - Subscribe Here

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Have your say!

Here’s your chance to have your say on BLOG topics covered – go to the Community Area (choose your subscriber level – basic or premium) and cast your vote!

%d bloggers like this: