Why empathy is a superpower in the world of work and beyond
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We’ve all seen the gentle ribbing of so-called ’empaths’, who declare they have such intense empathy that they carry it around like a weight, picking up the emotions and trauma of anyone with whom they cross paths.
That level of empathy – also known as being a highly sensitive person – isn’t a great thing to have.
But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Instead, we’re talking about a healthy level of empathy; an ability to understand where people are coming from and connecting with their experience.
That type of empathy can be powerful, says Mimi Nicklin, a globally recognised specialist in the topic, and it’s something the world needs more of.
‘Over the last few years, we have become increasingly aware of the need to live more connected, kind, and conscientious lives,’ Mimi tells Metro.co.uk. ‘For so long we have existed in our own self-driven bubbles, moving from one daily drama to the next, without investing the time to focus on really connecting with those around us, on empathising with them and putting the wellness of each other as our guiding force.
‘We are currently experiencing a 30-year decline in our empathy levels globally. This is affecting our relationships, our work and our communities and we must take immediate action.
‘Today, empathy is something that sets people apart. The ability to read and understand the emotions of those around you allows you to make a lasting impression and build rapport.
‘Like so many things in life, committing to practicing empathy for others will aid us in improving our ability to do so – and the benefits are well worth the effort.’
Mimi believes that empathy is especially important in the world of work, despite what you may think about success being dependent on a hard, unfeeling, goals-at-all-costs vibe.
She notes some key harms that arise when we lack empathy in the workplace, such as a major drop in employee wellbeing.
‘Human beings do not perform, think, or design at optimal levels if they are not treated as whole employees, considering their work, their health, and their perspective,’ she explains.
‘Without being able to walk in the shoes of your employees and understand their diverse viewpoints, it is nearly impossible to inspire and lead teams to success, and even harder to create marketing, powerful business decisions or innovative products that truly resonate with your audience.’
In short, if bosses want more from their workers, empathy is the key.
‘Our survival as humans is rooted in our shared success,’ Mimi adds. ‘If we are to find our way to 2023 with far less segregation and tension, we could all do with a little more understanding and connection as we move together as a population, all of us united.
‘Empathy is a skillset we are all born with and can learn, train and practice over our lifetimes.’
So, how can we start to be more empathetic at work? Let’s break down five key steps.
Remember people are more important than the bottom line
‘We must remember that above all else, all business is about people,’ says Mimi. ‘Whatever you sell, whatever it is that makes you your money, it will be the people that dig us out of this crisis, and leaders shouldn’t risk underestimating the power they hold when they empathize with what it is that makes their people tick.’
Listen to understand, not to reply
Mimi says: ‘Commit to making the people you speak to feel like they are the only person in the room (virtual or physical) and then ensure you are truly listening to what they are saying and not what you are preparing to answer.’
Choose your words carefully
Do your best to avoid making people feel judged or unfairly criticised.
‘Create judgement-free conversations by using phrases such as “what I’m hearing you say is…” to ensure the speaker feels that you heard exactly what they were trying to say,’ suggests Mimi.
‘Ask questions to better understand each other,’ Mimi says. ‘The more you delve into the other person’s “why” (their motivation and context) the more likely you are to be able to take away true insight.’
Pause for thought
Rather than jumping in right away to share your thoughts and views, try leaving a silence for someone else to fill. Give people the time and space to communicate, and if they come to an abrupt stop, try asking ‘can you tell me more?’ or ‘can you expand on that?’.
‘As all business leaders look to regenerate their organisations, empathising with your workforce and your clients could be the difference between gasping for air and grabbing success,’ Mimi adds.
Mimi Nicklin is a globally recognised millennial thought-leader on empathy. She is CEO of inclusive creative agency Freedm and best-selling author of Softening The Edge.
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