Merriam-Webster.com announced that “empathy’ was the fourth most searched word in 2017. Empathy means “the ability to share another person’s feelings and ultimately derives from the Greek word meaning “emotional”. Another way to define empathy is by simply recognizing emotions in others, and being able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” – understanding the other person’s perspective and reality.
The ability to empathize is directly dependent on your ability to feel your own feelings and identify them. If you have never felt a certain feeling, it will be hard for you to understand how another person is feeling. If you come from the school of thought where feelings and emotions have no place in the workplace, please read this article from Forbes.com stating why empathy is the force that moves business forward.
I first recall being introduced to the word empathy in 1986 when I attended the American Airlines comprehensive customer service training program. The word “empathy” resonated with me and was my number one takeaway from the six-week program. I believe this was in great part due to the hardships I experienced as well as what I observed and endured growing up with a mentally-challenged brother. By experiencing first-hand so many of his struggles and triumphs, I could feel his heart and see his thoughts. While I never will know exactly how my late brother felt, I could understand and connect with many of his feelings and responses to the world.
I also think working in diverse industries with all levels of employees over the past decades, helped develop my ability to be empathic. The diverse experiences provided exposure opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the various problems and obstacles people and organizations encounter. Whether experienced at work or in life, the understanding of another person’s feelings is critical for creating proficient people skills. People skills are driven by emotional intelligence. Our emotional intelligence helps us decide what to do when we interact with people.
When we say that someone “can’t relate” to people, it is likely because they haven’t experienced, acknowledged or accepted many feelings of their own. To build healthy relationships requires being empathic. To be empathic requires people to stop being egotistical, self-centered and judgmental. When we become open to the different types and ways of people, we can positively embrace different opinions and accept people unconditionally as they are. Empathy brings about better working relations, problem solving, and productivity.
Here are 5 Steps to Effectively Communicate with Empathy:
1. Be open to hearing what the person is sharing.
2. Listen actively to the entire message without interruption or judgement.
3. Acknowledge and validate what the person is sharing. (note: Validation is not agreement; validation is respect.)
4. Be flexible when the person’s thoughts and feelings change.
5. Ask clarifying questions to avoid false assumptions.
With “empathy” being a top-searched word in 2017, the increasing need to develop this necessary life skill is on the rise. People and organizations will become more successful and prosperous by developing the capacity to empathize. When co-workers understand each other, greater cooperation and collaboration fuel them into becoming high-performance teams. When you demonstrate empathy, you will likely appear more approachable. When you increase your interest to hear what others think, feel and experience, you will likely appear more caring. Your connections will be deeper and more fulfilling. It is important to not judge but to realize that everyone has an opinion, a story and struggles. As the New Year begins, I challenge you to practice being empathic in 2018 by being more open-minded and understanding towards all.
Finally, for your personal enjoyment, here are the top 10 words searched in 2017: Merriam-Webster.com.
Be Strong, Be Bold, Be Delicious!