The Truth about Empathy & 2 Practical Tips To Improve – Guest Blog by Gina Weatherup
There are lots of myths about empathy:
- You’re either born an empathetic person, or you’re not.
- Women have more empathy than men.
- Showing empathy at work will not help you succeed.
Yes, those are ALL myths. As human beings, we have mirror neurons, and those fire when we see other people’s emotions – a person looking disgusted makes us feel disgust; a person smiling makes us smile. So we all have empathy. Yet it’s also true that empathy is a muscle that we can exercise and make grow stronger.
- Empathy is all about emotions – you feel what someone else is feeling.
There are actually two forms of empathy: affective, or emotional, empathy, and cognitive empathy. In the first type, it really is about feeling: you involuntarily feel the same emotion someone else is feeling. As humans, we are far more likely to feel affective empathy with people who are similar to us, or to whom we already have an emotional bond. Example: I am more likely to feel empathy with a fellow Rowan Tree member, or, with one of my daughters, as compared to someone I don’t know.
I work hard to make that not be true… how? By actively exercising my cognitive empathy.
Cognitive empathy is less about feelings and more about making a deliberate effort to understand where someone else is coming from, and guess at what they might be feeling. And we can all work on our cognitive empathy.
Now you know some myths. Let’s talk about why empathy is important at work, especially for small business owners, and two proven, practical ways to increase your empathy.
Why Empathy Is Important at Work
We all work with people, to different degrees. It is rare that someone works entirely on their own. There are partners, colleagues, employees, people who share our coworking space, and of course – CLIENTS!
Empathy is like a social glue that helps us relate to each other and find connection.
Clients prefer to work with people whom they like and trust. And employees prefer to work for people whom they like and trust – in fact, feeling that your manager cares about you has a bigger impact on your desire to keep working for a company than your salary!
There’s quite a bit of research on empathy, specifically, and on emotional intelligence (empathy is part of that!) that demonstrates connections to success in business. Here are a few examples:
- If you work in HR, empathy is a critical skill, says SHRM. And that means if you work with people at all, empathy is important!
- Empathy is about our social relationships. It’s not just key to building friends and families, it helps us better understand and collaborate with our coworkers and clients.
- Do you find work stressful? You can fight stress with empathy!
- Read fiction – novels, preferably. There is a lot of research that shows that reading about fictional lives, as opposed to reading biographies or viewing videos, gets empathy neurons firing.
- Engage your brain in active listening: it is the one activity that research shows increases both affective and cognitive empathy. Bonus: True active listening (listening to understand, not to respond) means you are demonstrating care and interest in your clients, prospects, and employees – or whomever you are active listening to!
Want to learn more? Download my active listening guide to dig deep into one of the best ways to grow your empathy muscle! (It’ll take less than 20 minutes to read, promise.)
About the Author
Gina is a Rowan Tree Member and the founder of Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation, which helps leaders build happier workplaces. Her services include conflict resolution, facilitation, and management trainings focused on empathy and emotional intelligence. She believes we spend far too much time working to not be happy at work! She has spent two decades consciously working to improve her empathy and emotional intelligence and uses these skills to help small business leaders and HR pros.
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