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Prompt 23: Empathise

Our collective empathy is slowly eroding over time - yet it's something our world needs! Here's how to grow it in your life.
Prompt 23: Empathise
Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash

    "Empathy is what I look for above when hiring new staff."

I heard this statement in a panel at a business conference from an entrepreneur (whose name frustratingly alludes me), and to this day, it sticks in my mind.

The successful entrepreneur reflected that whether they were hiring people for sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, IT, coding, human resources or any other role, an employee's ability to empathise was key to their success.

They reflected that they could teach employees most skills, but empathy was something that people seemed to have or did not have.

The result of this approach to hiring was significant in relationships with customers but led to employee satisfaction and better decision-making across the business.

Empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another) is a powerful force - not only in the workplace but in almost every part of life. In fact, almost every time I give dad advice to my kids, it boils down to 'be empathetic'.

While some people may naturally be more empathetic than others, I've come to believe that it is something we can all foster and grow.

Painted red
Photo by Tim Marshall / Unsplash

The Science of Empathy

A 2021 study on empathy found that, on average, we have the opportunity to be empathetic around nine times every day.

The study also showed that those who empathised more regularly reported greater happiness and well-being than those who did not show empathy for those around them.

So it isn't just those to who we show empathy to that benefit - when we are empathetic, we benefit too!

Of interest to me was that the study found that empathy was not just about engaging with other people's moments of suffering - but that empathy can also be connected to sharing in the happiness of others.

In this TED talk, professor Jamil Zaki says that studies show that our collective empathy is slowly eroding over time.

Or perhaps, as Maya Angelou says:

I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.

He's also a believer that empathy isn't a trait - it's a skill - something we can work on through practice.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

– Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Look for Opportunities for Empathy

So this week, my encouragement is to look for those nine daily opportunities for empathy!

A few thoughts that might help those of us who feel empathetically challenged:

  • slow down -awareness of where others are at if we don't step out of the crazy busy life to which we can become accustomed. Busyness and a fast-paced life may well be one of the reasons that empathy has been on the downward slide of late.
  • be curious about those around you - strike up conversations, ask questions, be open to interactions, seek understanding, and invite sharing.
  • listen - if empathy is partly about understanding the feelings of others, we need to be good at listening! This may start with listening to what they say verbally, but if we are truly to get into their shoes, perhaps it means stepping out of our comfort zone and travelling life with them in some way.
  • share - the other half of empathy is sharing the feelings of others. This is about showing something of ourselves and perhaps being a little vulnerable - sharing our own story. But again, it might also be about sharing in their life in some way - participating in the highs and lows that they experience.

So let's get exercising our empathic muscles and, as Jamil says - empathise with purpose.

"Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’"

– Brené Brown

Further reading:

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