For many, empathy is what I’ll call a touchy-mushy word. “It’s all about feelings, isn’t it? – being sympathetic and compassionate. Does that really have any place in the hard-nosed world of business? One of the problems with empathy is that it is often confused with being ‘soft’ - overly sympathetic and compassionate, even sentimental. It can be associated with tolerating bad performance or bad behavior, which is probably more to do with avoiding conflict than empathy.
Empathy is simply the ability to comprehend and be respectful of the inner state/experience of others, it doesn’t mean agreeing with the other person’s perceived experience or condoning the actions they take based on their interpretations. It is also not just limited to understanding another’s feelings. Empathy includes an ability to identify and articulate another’s worldview, expectations, wants and needs. Great communicators are empathic because they try to see the world through the eyes of their audience. By doing so they show respect and caring for their audience and when people feel respect and caring they respond. There is an old saying, “I don’t care about what you know until I know that you care.”
People without empathy can only see others through their own eyes, their view of the world is projected onto others. If I play mind games and manipulate others to get what I want, then so does everyone else.
The kind of person we are trying to develop in our training programs asks why a person is seeing, thinking or doing in the ways they are and is not just reacting blindly to him or her. Our empathic learner is also self-aware and sensitive to how their own behavior impacts others. Empathy is outward and inward looking.
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