Assertive, decisive and strategic. They’re the skills that ordinarily come to mind when you think of what you need to climb the proverbial career ladder. But in a world where devils wear Prada and ‘nice’ girls are conditioned to believe that they won’t get the corner office, there is a personality strength that will help you in your career and it may come as a surprise to you…
As kids we were taught the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The only problem with this teaching is that not everyone has the same wants and desires that you have. Instead, empathy actually says; do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
Empathy is the imaginative act of stepping into the shoes of another person. It is the ability to understand another’s feelings and perspectives and acting accordingly. Something that seems like a fairly obvious social skill. But in today’s hyper-individualistic society we sometimes forfeit the art of empathetic engagement.
The good news is that most of us have the ability to empathise, if we just move away from the consumer-culture questions, “What’s in it for me?”
And since you asked, there’s a lot in it for you. As a leader empathy is a key to emotional intelligence. It enables you to relate to others and build relationships where you can understand the needs of your workers and act accordingly.
Progressive leaders are aware of what is going on their organisations. They have their fingers on the pulse and play to the strengths of their team. When a leader listens to their employees they can build trust and loyalty, leading to greater collaboration and ultimately greater productivity.
So how can we become more empathetic?
1. Talk to people
Practice two-way conversations. Get out of the office and ask people questions. Look for opportunities to collaborate. It may make you feel vulnerable at first, but that is when we truly experience what those around us feel.
2. Practice empathetic listening
Instead of always doing the talking, try listening for two things in a conversation: the other person’s feelings and their needs. If they aren’t openly offering them, ask them. People want to be heard.
3. In a disagreement, give people the opportunity to express how they feel
Especially when people don’t agree with you, it’s important to let them express their feelings and explain why. You will learn more about your work culture and the people you work with, plus it gives people a vested interest in the company because they feel heard.
4. Talk to a stranger once a week
Highly empathetic people are curious. They find other people more interesting than themselves and they will spend time asking them questions. Talking to new people gives you inspiration and insight. But it’s important to go beyond a superficial conversation and talk about things that really reveal who a person is. Ask them about their family or their life ambitions. The more you get to know people out of a genuine interest, the more stereotypes that barrier empathy will be dismantled.
5. Live by The Platinum Rule
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. Remember, we’re not all created the same. The more you get to know a person, the better you will become at responding to their needs. It takes time, but it’s worth it in the long run.