Empathy is certainly a learned skill much like riding a bike or any technical skill at work.  Now that we understand what empathy is (EP 245) you should have an idea of where you can begin to grow your own empathy. 

You need to be open to empathy 

You first have to be open to the idea of allowing yourself to tap into your own emotions and those of others.  This point of entry into empathetic growth is why you will never be able to force someone to grow in this area. You can’t tell a person to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the other person’s situation if they aren’t open to it. They may close their eyes, but they will not establish a connection. 

In order to be open to growing your empathy, you must first have a strong sense of self, confidence, and comfortability with engaging in emotions. You won’t reach your fullest potential in empathy without this foundation. 

You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes

There are variations of a saying that basically states that you shouldn’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. The premise of the saying is that you should understand and live out an experience before you cast judgment on someone else.  That’s not necessarily needed to make a good empathetic connection. 

Let’s say that a co-worker is devastated because they bombed their first presentation in a meeting. You haven’t had that experience, but you can remember how you felt in a similar situation. Maybe it was a time you let a bunch of friends down or disappointed a boss that you really looked up to or your nerves got the best of you in a situation. Connecting how you felt in those situations to how your co-worker is feeling is a great bridge for solid empathy. 

I may not have lived out that exact scenario, but I understand the emotions that you are feeling. 

Understand that the bridge to true empathy is not created equal

It is easier for us to have empathy with people that look like us and have similar backgrounds. That’s because we can easily relate their experiences to our own. It’s a short and wide bridge to cross. 

Understand that it takes more mental work to make connections to other groups and backgrounds. That bridge is longer and more narrow. Be very mindful of these situations. Listen more, ask questions and look for ways to establish that connection with the other person. 

Think objectively in the situation

Know that people communicate through filters. They want to protect themselves or they are only talking about the scenario from their point of view. I’m not saying that the other person is a liar or trying to deceive you, but know that their emotions may be clouding their judgment, communication, and mindset.  

Understand the impact on the person while thinking about the bigger picture of what’s going on around them. This helps me connect well with a person while making informed decisions on the larger view of things.

An objective example of this would be when two employees get into a disagreement. One comes to you feeling disrespected and hurt. You can connect with that person in how’d you’d feel if you were slighted. Staying objective helps you avoid making a brash decision and seek to understand the other side as well. You may even find out that there were a number of things that lead to the blow-up. 

Having a strong objective view helps you have empathy for both sides when working through people issues. It is always to good to have empathy for all sides in employee and family conflicts.

These tips give you a great start in growing your empathy with others. We’ll share roadblocks to growth and more tips next week. 

Make a better tomorrow.