Empathy in Everyday Conversations

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colleague expressing empathy in the workplaceIn a previous post, Return from the 2nd Canadian Positive Psychology Conference, I wrote about the revolutionary work being done in our educational systems to build resilience and overall state of happiness for our children. One specific workshop introduced an international organization and its two programs dedicated to building caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy are evidenced-based programs that have shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy. I was led to wonder how today’s children will transform the workplace with well-developed empathic behaviour.

Empathy in Everyday Conversations

In everyday conversations – whether with friends, family or coworkers – most of us have an empathy deficit – or at least we don’t express empathy enough.

Everyone wants to be seen, heard and appreciated. However, not that many people—especially in workplaces—know how to communicate empathy so that others feel seen, heard and appreciated.

Most of us are too focused on conveying our own messages.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.” ~ Psychologist Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2007)

“Warm and Fuzzy” in the Workplace?

Empathy isn’t defined as having warm feelings for all of humanity as we strive for peace on Earth. It’s not about “warm and fuzzy” feelings for someone else (although that may well happen). Empathy involves understanding others’ thoughts and feelings—gaining true awareness by asking questions and actively listening.

Relationships are built on empathy. Unfortunately, many people erroneously assume they’re empathetic. Poorly expressed or absent empathy leads to misunderstandings, lack of trust and uncooperative friends/family/colleagues.

Poorly expressed empathy occurs in a conversation that begins with something like “I understand how you feel.” On the other hand, well-expressed empathy begins with something like “That must be so difficult for you.” A subtle difference that changes the focus and impact.

The Consequences of Lack of Empathy

Superficial connections with colleagues are often accepted as the norm. We let superficiality slip into our relationships with friends and family. We sometimes default to using humour as a handy substitute for getting to know and understand each other. How often have you heard sarcasm used to minimize and trivialize a person’s feelings?

The lack of empathy has wide-reaching consequences. No one intends to keep others at a distance, but that’s what happens when we pay insufficient attention to others’ emotions. Perhaps we’re afraid of coming across as overly touchy-feely and go to the other extreme: relying on logic and common sense, ignoring all feelings. Neither extreme benefits our relationships or communication efforts.

Communication is never a one-way street. While people want to hear what you have to say, they are more interested in knowing that you care about them. Theodore Roosevelt said it well: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Connecting Empathy with Trust and Influence

Empathy lubricates authentic connections, allowing us to build trust and influence. It requires more than just seeing and feeling. It’s more than simply “walking in the other’s shoes.” It’s about describing every blister and cut, every triumphant step. It’s mirroring the other person’s experience.

A measure of empathy exists as part of your Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Perhaps there ought to exist a measure of empathy as part of your IQ and as part of learning to be conversationally intelligent. Programs like Seeds of Empathy and Roots of Empathy are giving our children a good head start. Just like verbal and mathematical abilities, you can improve your empathy skills.

Taking empathy to the next level in the workplace is something I focus on when working with clients to create great places to work and build great profits. Find out how to take your empathy to another level. Contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Books and Audiobooks

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D.

On iTunes

Assessment for Measuring Empathy

For information about qualified administration and briefing of the following assessment, contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566

EQ – Emotional Intelligence – EQi 2.0 and EQ 360

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