Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s one of those frou-frou soft-sounding skills that isn’t out there as one of the skills people are actively trying to develop in themselves. When “Empathy” showed up as one of my top five strengths in the StrengthsFinder™ assessment, I wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement. It doesn’t quite have the cool factor some of the other strengths have.
And, so what? Why talk about Empathy on a blog about influence? Empathy is a powerful tool because it is the strongest social tool for building interpersonal connection. That’s right… empathy allows you to make friends and influence people. In a recent post, we talked about the influence pathway of Appealing to the Relationship. The skill of empathy - especially if you're really good at it - is your main tool for building relationships that you can leverage later. Empathy is definitely something you should pay attention to.
I know what you’re thinking: But Kara, I don’t see my leaders being empathetic to me. Steve Jobs wasn’t empathetic. Elon Musk doesn’t come across as being chock-full of empathy. Maybe not. But think what you could do if you had the skills of those guys AND empathy to boot?! It’s an advantage that you can have that those leaders didn’t. Plus, as annoying as it is, if you’re a lady out there, being perceived as confident without also being perceived as empathetic is typically what ends up making people label you with the ever-present b-word.
Empathy isn’t sympathy. Sympathy requires an understanding or compassion for others, but empathy takes it a step further… it’s putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and actually feeling what they’re feeling. It’s a vulnerable choice because you have to connect with something inside yourself that welcomes the emotional state of another human.
Brene Brown, one of our favorite ladies we fangirl, is a great empathy teacher. Check out her video that beautifully illustrates what empathy is and how it works.
If you begin to practice empathy, you will increase your ability to understand others and build relationships. You’ll gain connections, information resources, emotional resources and even more. You’ll also give some of that back in all likelihood.
In our next post we’ll break down the steps of empathy and how you can start to integrate it into your everyday interactions. For now, ask yourself this:
When do you most want empathy from others?
-- Kara Davidson, Cofounder, wolf & heron