The Beatles proclaimed ‘All We Need Is Love’, but love actually cannot happen without empathy. Recently, I ‘found’ empathy and realized how important it is in our organization where we spend most of our waking hours with one another.
Empathy is defined as the ability to detect other’s emotions and understand their perspective. Sympathy is feeling bad or sorry for the loss of another person while empathy is feeling the loss or pain of others. But empathy is so hard. To most people (like me), it does not come naturally but fortunately, it’s a trait that could be learned.
In a harried, complicated and stressful world, empathy is the glue that holds relationships together. When people feel accepted and validated, it builds trust and makes them feel safe. This is true at home, the workplace, in school, sports and especially in the military.
In my own experience, I get better work performances out of my team when they feel I trust them and I’m there for them. But so often, I find it much easier to focus only on the performance (tangible and measurable) and forgetting the intangibles (like trust and empathy) that my team needs from me.
To be a more empathetic leader, parent, coach or teacher, one must learn to be a ‘good listener’. But a good listener does not mean waiting for your turn to speak. It means you want to listen rather than speak. You want to hear all the details about a problem or situation, so you can understand it completely. To take in what you’re hearing, you listen to verbal cues and observe non-verbal ones.
But for someone who’s quite impatient with people who are long-winded and repetitive, I find this an almost impossible challenge. What do I do? I grit my teeth and tell myself “empathy…empathy…. it’ll end soon”. So far, so good.
It is easier to have empathy for someone who is like us, but it is possible to learn empathy for those who are different from us. Hard but not impossible. This kind of positive outlook can promote better understanding and strengthen relationships. Try and practice it on someone (your boss, co-worker, in-laws) today.
This Christmas, I believe the best gift one can ask for is to have more empathy in our world. This means, we don’t always have to agree with one another but learn to understand and accept our differences.
Happy holidays to all,