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Carreer Junction by Michele Majul-IbarraWhy empathy?

by Michele Majul-Ibarra

Why is empathy such a buzzword in the work world today?

According to research, empathy is the most important leadership skill. In Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, it states: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

First off, empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is the feeling of concern and tendency to feel sadness or sorrow for someone’s misfortune. Empathy, on the other hand, is understanding and sharing another person’s experiences and emotions. For example, you can feel sympathetic towards your co-worker’s personal loss. Empathy is when notice a new co-worker struggling with a task. You understand what they are going through, and you offer to help them. When you show empathy, it means you understand what it feels like to walk in another person’s shoes, and you support them through those challenging situations.

According to Daniel Goleman a renowned psychologist, empathy is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence. Empathy is further divided into three major categories: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy.

Cognitive empathy is described as the understanding of how the other person’s mind functions. Essentially, it involves an understanding of what the other person might be thinking. From the perspective of leadership, using this skill to better understand how their team members are feeling would help them to adjust their leadership style to motivate their team. From an employee’s perspective, for someone who works in customer service as an example, they can use this skill to gauge a customer’s or client’s temperament to determine the best way to proceed with a conversation or with a sale.

Emotional empathy is the ability to share another person’s perspective on how they are feeling. As an example, when you listen to someone who speaks to you who is choked up and in tears while they share their pain, the more you are to begin to feel the same emotions. As they show their sadness, it makes you want to comfort them through words or gestures. In the case of emotional empathy, there is a shift from a cognitive perspective to sharing the emotional experience of the other person. Experts also refer to emotional empathy as “affective” empathy as it affects or changes your perspective as well as approaching the situation in a way that genuinely creates a rapport with the other person. However, social psychology suggests caution regarding emotional empathy as emotionally empathetic individuals are quite sensitive. Should they continue to experience dealing with other people’s issue and they are not resolved, their own mental health could suffer as well. Emotional empathy burnout can result from this. The reality is that we cannot serve anyone from an empty cup. However, leaders who can display emotional empathy (with balance of course) can help build trust between them and their team members, which enables the development of genuine rapport.

Lastly, compassionate empathy is described as the sharing of another person’s emotional pain and taking practical steps to help reduce the pain while simultaneously feeling concern for that person. As an example, a leader may show support to a team member who did not succeed in achieving a particular goal by inspiring them to perform better the next time around. It is important to not only show empathy for how they are reacting to their situation, but also setting time aside to listen and offer practical advice. This can go a long way to help them understand how they can do better next time.

Empathy can be a valuable tool when dealing with co-workers, customers, and even managers. When you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes you may be able to manage the situation carefully and thoughtfully. The ability to connect with others and show empathy is crucial. Empathy makes a person human. Apart from our personal relationships, the workplace necessitates it more than ever because it is important that employees get along with one another and be willing to help each other.

This article is intended for information purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice.

Michele Majul-Ibarra, IPMA-ACP is a Director of Human Resources in the public sector. She holds the Advanced Certified HR Professional Designation with the International Personnel Management Association.


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