Empathy: a definition
The term empathy was introduced to the English language by American psychologist E.B. Titchener. He coined “empathy” as a translation of the German word “Einfühlung”, but at the time, he was referring more to other phenomena, such as motor mimicry (an imitation of other people’s behaviour).
But what we understand today, is different.
Simply put, empathy can be defined as the ability to comprehend others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what is going on, without needing to have had the same experience.
Empathy takes more time and effort than sympathy and it is built on self-awareness.
Why? Because mastering your own emotions leads to being open enough (and willing to) understand others’ emotions as well.
“(…) when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
What will we be covering here
Ever since my first blog post about Emotional Intelligence, I’ve always said that empathy, like any other skill, can be learnt and improved. Just like a muscle. You can take it to the gym to prevent decay or work on it daily to make it strong and significant.
The importance of empathy in our daily life is pretty understandable; but why are its results of such vital importance when it comes to business?
Just to name a few of them:
👉 Improving timing and quality in the delivery of goods or services, according to our clients’ needs
👉 Making important and long-lasting connections with key members in the organisation
👉 Being able to solve difficulties or help others with hindrances in time
👉 Creating bonds and connections forming the basis of loyalty
👉 Opening the doors to innovation based on mutual trust and respect
Empathy has its roots in self-awareness, nurtures itself in self-management and paves the way to relationship management.
As with any other skill, empathy needs to be interlinked with other competencies and work in tandem with them to really perform at its maximum potential.
Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman broke down the concept of empathy into the following three categories: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.
Let’s take a quick look at them:
This refers to the ability to comprehend what a person might feel or think. It is like a channel of “information”.
It answers the question: “What is the other person going through?” For example, “Tom would like to speak with his supervisor about a possible promotion, but he seems to have difficulties in finding the right way to open up a conversation ” or “My clients have been asking for a direct channel of communication with my business; the Q&A page on my website does not seem to be enough for them”.
This refers to the ability to understand the feelings of another person through an emotional connection. It answers the question: “How does the other person feel?” For example: “Tom feels his supervisor is not going to pay attention to his request, he feels intimidated and insecure and this is why he is delaying the conversation” or “My clients feel frustrated as they would like to have a direct channel of communication, with a real person and not a bot”.
This is the third type, and goes far beyond the first two, as it involves action: if we understand and share the feelings of the other person, we can actually help. It answers the question: “What can I do to help?” For example, “I might help Tom to find ways to open up and be confident” or “I will implement a direct channel of communication on my website and a customer service line on Social Media”.
Showing empathy through words helps.
After encountering a new situation and needing more information: “Would you mind telling me more about this? The more I know, the quicker we can get it sorted”
After discovering a new event or situation: “I just wanted to let you know that I understand what you feel”
After receiving an email with a request or comment: “Would it be more convenient for you to discuss this over the phone or in person?
If you feel ready to take action: “Is there anything I can do for you? ”
In their 4th annual empathy study, Businessolvers’ report shows that:
📌 72% of CEOs say the state of empathy needs to evolve
📌 58% of them struggle with showing it in a consistent way
It is clear that there is still a lot to be done. Even though corporations are aware of the importance of incorporating empathy into the culture of the organization, there is still a gap between the intention and the action.
Making empathy part of the company’s culture calls for a conscious effort.
Why is it so important to build emotional empathy and implement it?
Research has already proven that empathy, among other things:
👉 boosts productivity
👉 accelerates innovation
👉 increases loyalty and customer satisfaction
👉 creates long term bonds and cooperation
So, given that there is still so much to do in this field, let’s take a look at simple but effective solutions that we can implement right away:
• Show gratitude: say thank you more often, appreciate the time and effort that others invest in you, your product and your service. Give credit for the things well done. Being grateful not only creates bonds but also shows respect and helps with dignity.
• Show you listen: practicing active listening restores confidence and helps build loyalty. A high percentage of employees, as well as customers, feel their opinion doesn’t matter. Make yourself available: create surveys, ask direct questions, handle 1-to-1 meetings, be sure that your customer service is giving the needed assistance.
• Share stories with a positive outlook, whenever you can but especially before beginning a meeting. Sharing creates a bond and helps to set an ambiance of collaboration and willingness, openness and receptiveness.
• Listen to your co-workers and team members. Make some extra time to give others the opportunity to share. Make room, physically and emotionally, for the others’ experiences. Let people talk and listen to their stories.
👉 Know yourself and your emotions
👉Practice active listening
👉 Open up space for reflection
👉 Know yourself: self-awareness and self-management are the first steps that will help you improve empathy. Both will help you with: knowing yourself, your emotions and reactions, and also, being ready to manage your own feelings, creating, with confidence, a space to listen carefully to others.
👉Practice active listening and connect with the other person. Be interested in speech but also in body language. Open yourself up to understand and if you don’t, ask questions, be curious and willing to learn and understand new perspectives. Focus on understanding the situation (cognitive empathy) and how the person feels (emotional empathy).
👉 Open up space for reflection and practice self-awareness: you can relate to the others’ experience if you have had a similar one, but you can also imagine how it looks if you don’t. Explore your own feelings and emotions and ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. Get ready to implement a solution and take action, showing compassionate empathy. Simply, ask: how can I help?
By now, you know that developing these skills will certainly help improve your social and emotional intelligence quotients.
If you want to improve this important skill, book a free 15-minute consultation with me. After the call, you will get a follow-up email with my proposed plan of action.