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Importance Of Empathy

Empathy is a choice. An important one that we need to make to improve and to bridge the gaps between differentiators like generations, cultures, religions, socioeconomics

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Satya Nadella recently launched his new book ‘Hit Refresh’ in which he makes references to the importance of empathy. Suddenly empathy is a hot topic again!

Empathy is the ability to put oneself in the other person’s place. It is different from sympathy where you feel bad for the person. Empathy is a far more evolved and compassionate an emotion. When you empathize with someone, you try to understand and feel another person’s emotions, perspectives and actions, reflect on it and then communicate it to the person.

By relaying your understanding the person in strife will feel understood and supported by virtue of the effort you have made to try and understand their predicament. By exercising empathy you can clarify situations and create stronger relationships.

Empathy as a quality doesn’t always come easily. It must be consciously cultivated and put into practice. The biggest challenge, though, is you can’t just say—I’ll go to work and turn on my empathy switch.

It isn’t necessarily innate, but can certainly be developed.

This highly nuanced skill reflects a person’s ability to connect with others and to relate to them which is an essential in building and managing healthy relationships. In the absence of the ability to understand what another is going through, our relationships remain superficial and without the depth and richness that occurs when we share an emotional connection. More often than not an opportunity is lost.

Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us has differing perspectives. We all experience moods, pain and hurt, joy and sadness in different degrees. We need to go beyond the limitations of our own perspectives. Take a moment to assess another without assumptions.

Jumping to conclusions without a neutral assessment often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale and broken bonds.

Bottom line is that everyone wants to feel heard.

The Power of Empathy

Empathy isn’t a switch that we need to flip on only at home, it is invaluable at work too.

When we empathise with someone you get to the root of the issue, the cause because of which they are distressed. Could be issues ranging from troubles at home or school or even at work.

We are the sum of our experiences and the parts affect each other.

Instead of reacting to the emotions of another or becoming defensive, you can ask questions about their behaviour or emotional state. There still may be a  need to be disciplined or consequences to their behaviour, but by using empathy first, the person feels valued and heard and therefore, will more easily accept responsibility for their actions.

Empathy is the missing link in workplaces, in our schools, and in our homes. As kids grow up, they often tend to be mean to each other. If we start teaching empathy in grade school and middle school, then perhaps we would grow up being more loving and tolerant and understanding of each other.

Challenges to Empathy

Although in theory empathy seems like an extreme quality to possess, unfortunately there are many challenges to exercising it.

1. We need to pay attention.

We are so caught up with our own head that we seldom find the bandwidth to invest in others. Empathy like most qualities can be inculcated and embibed. The next time you ask someone how they are doing, pay attention to their response. Are they really ok? Do you care to learn more?

It may make someone feel better what they are going through and you will walk away with the feeling that you touched someone’s life. It takes that little sometimes. A simple “How are you?”

2. It takes time. In our fast paced world, we are constantly on the move. Empathy requires that we stop and take the time to care. To get over ourselves and care about those around us too.

3. There is historical baggage between you and the concerned person.

The longer an association with a person, the harder it is to put that aside and simply be with them. Each time you engage with a person you know well you will bring the baggage of previous exchanges to the table too.

You will have to bypass that preconditioned response to dealing with the person, observing and engaging looking through new eyes.

Leave your baggage at the door. Tell a new story about your relationship. This one is not easy.

Empathy is a choice. An important one that we need to make to improve and to bridge the gaps between differentiators like generations, cultures, religions, socioeconomics.

Empathy allows us to be fully human and gives others permission to do the same. So be human

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