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If you want to cultivate empathy, my suggestion is to stop thinking that everyone thinks and acts like you do or would. Jeff Rotmeyer, ImpactHK
Em ·pa·thy | \ ˈem-pə-thē. Definition of empathy the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
A story about the power of empathy
The power of empathy was reinforced while I was a psychiatric RN in a behavioral health hospital. One day, while working on our child unit, I met Kimi who taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Kimi was 11 years old and completely shut-down. She attended our groups and therapies but refused to talk. An outsider may have interpreted her behavior as entitled or oppositional, but we all knew she was hurting.
So, I plopped down next to her during lunch and told her silly stories about my dogs and kids. Eventually, she laughed, and we started talking. After a while, she said, “I was five when I left my grandma’s home, and I’ve been in 22 foster homes since then.”
Twenty-two foster homes in six years! No wonder she didn’t bother to engage! She didn’t trust us. Why would she? From Kimi’s point of view, there’d be no point in getting close to us. After all, she’d soon be moving on to her next stop.
Once we appreciated her perspective, we knew to approach her extra slowly and earn her trust.
Shortly after that, a psychiatric resident introduced himself to Kimi for her first evaluation. Instead of slowly getting to know her, he immediately began peppering her with questions. Kimi shut down and refused to talk to him.
Consequently, the resident became frustrated and left. While leaving, he said, “She won’t talk or look at me. Give her some assignments. She needs to learn to respect doctors.”
At that moment, the resident ignored the Power of empathy. He didn’t “put himself in her shoes.” You see, Kimi didn’t care about his medical degree. After all, she’d been shoved around for years, so she trusted no one.
Had he taken the time to see her perspective, he may have approached her differently and gotten better results. Sadly, in this situation, he didn’t bother.
The power of empathy in leadership
Unfortunately, leaders often consider empathy as an unnecessary soft skill. As a result, they ignore one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to connecting and understanding one another.
Leadership is about inspiring others to take action beyond their capabilities. A great leader guides them in a direction that is compelling and dynamic. Most certainly, understanding is the bedrock of those actions. Empathy is essential to effective leadership.
Empathy is not Sympathy
Sympathy and empathy are different. Sympathy is a feeling of concern for someone, but it doesn’t require seeing things from their perspective. You don’t “step inside someone else’s shoes” to grasp their perspective or recognize their emotions behind it.
Empathy, however, requires you to consider the other’s perspective. It necessitates that you set aside your own thoughts and opinions to learn how someone else perceives things.
The power of empathy at work and home
Empathy lets us build friendships, cooperate with others, and help out when we see people being bullied. It has many valuable assets both at work and in our personal life.
The Power of Empathy at work
- Improves relationships
- Increases productivity
- Encourages mutual problem solving
- Elevates customer satisfaction
- Builds leadership.
Finally, we live in a world where automation is everywhere and ever-changing. Despite these ongoing changes, our need for human connection remains the same.
Empathy builds connections. So, when employees relate to their customers, they form a relationship. Your company or hospital will stand head and shoulders above the competitors who don’t bother to encourage this connection.
Therefore, empathy is good for business, according to Harvard Business Review.
Power of empathy in personal life
- It reduces stress
- Fosters resilience, trust, and healing
- Improves communication skills
- Encourages growth, creativity, learning
- Nourishes connection.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), author Harper Lee writes, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”.
When we take time to understand each other, we are more likely to accept them. As a result, positive feelings flow for them and for ourselves. We feel more connected, and that bonding increases our happiness and our wellbeing.
Empathy doesn’t require agreement.
Empathy doesn’t require us to agree with another person’s point of view. Instead, it merely asks us to recognize and understand their perspective. We better understand each other when we withhold judgment and sincerely consider their perspective.
When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy decreases, and their positive energy increase. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems. Steven Covey
I am grateful that Kimi eventually trusted me enough to tell me about her chilling, short life. Her stories helped us create a more effective treatment plan.
But Kimi also taught me a valuable lesson during my time as her nurse. She taught me that the real power of empathy is in bridging the connection between two hearts.