Empathy is far from being a soft skill to acquire. In fact, many of us are challenged in being empathetic because it involves a high level of awareness of ourselves and of others. When we are aware of these (2) aspects, we are better equipped to be able to understand how a person thinks, behaves, and feels.
To be empathetic, you seek to understand – without judgment. This means when you are in a dialogue with someone, you listen to understand versus listening to respond. Most people don’t do this because we are often processing how we are going to respond and react while we are listening to the person talk. This is NOT being 100% present and focused – and this is often the culprit for misunderstandings and conflict.
Not empathetic? Not to worry. The good news is we can develop empathic skills, much like developing emotional intelligence. Research suggests that only 50% of our empathic capacity is genetically inherited (Orloff, 2017). This leaves room for strengthening this skill through greater awareness of our emotions and our communication processing.
From a business standpoint, there are ways to promote an empathic work culture as well. Hiring leaders that demonstrate compassion can help build a caring environment that boosts productivity, performance, and profit. A study conducted with 105 companies found that the CEOS who demonstrated humility and caring towards others had increased financial performance, less employee turnover and greater employee satisfaction (Ou, Walderman, & Peterson, 2015).
Creating an open environment that welcomes engagement, insight and creativity can assist in developing an empathic mindset. Different minds produce unique ideas that can lead to innovative business practices. Companies that promote and support diversity and inclusion can have a positive impact on creating a high-trust empathic work culture that fosters respect for the differences among one another (Nowack & Zak, 2020).
Strengthening your empathic muscle takes discipline and practice to acquire the habits and skills necessary for successful outcomes. It also requires an open mind to allow others to think and behave differently than you. Getting yourself to feel comfortable in the midst of differences is a powerful way to live and to lead – and there is nothing soft about that.