By Warren Heggarty
Think about these statements:
• Before criticizing someone, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place
• It upsets me to see someone being treated disrespectfully
• When Maria told me she and Angelo were going to be married, I think I was just as excited about it than she was!!! (Greater Good Science, 2019)
Strongly agreeing with statements like these suggests a person is strongly empathic. Empathy is definitely a skill which is required in many jobs involving personal contact. It is also necessary for people who’s work might involve negotiation or compromise, such as sales.
Having empathy, they say, is an essential part of
• Understanding customers
• Knowing the right questions to ask
• … And even helping you get a loan! (Stillman, 2014)
According to a 2018 ‘State of Workplace Empathy Study’ by Businessolver, the vast majority of bosses and human resources people ‘agreed that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on business performance, motivating workers and increasing productivity.’ (Lucas, 2019) So where do you get empathy?
According to Roman Krznaric, an academic working in the UK who specialises in empathy, ‘empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives- and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation.’ He suggests developing several habits which include going outside your comfort zone, listening and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
‘Highly empathic people have an insatiable curiosity about strangers.’ Their curiosity leads them to ask questions of people outside their normal social circle. Through listening, they come to understand diverse points of view. (Stillman, 2014)
That includes the points of view of people with whom we disagree- a talent that seems to be lost in the age of internet trolling. For example, if you are very keen on stopping global warming, trying to understand what motivates coal mining executives will be helpful.
Some call this Cognitive empathy, or ‘perspective-taking’ perhaps because it is less focused on feelings. It is a useful workplace skill, particularly in negotiations for example, or for managers.
In addition, listening in the sense intended by Krznaric goes further than just staying quiet and nodding your head. To best understand another person’s feelings, we need to be open about our own. (Stillman, 2014)
Listening is not just hearing, it is seeking to understand. Watching for body language is also a part of listening that often tells you more about what a person thinks and feels that words can. (Lucas, 2019)
ABOVE: Empathy is in high demand. There is even a book about how to help your children develop it! Might be an idea to start on ourselves, first…
Now think about these statements.
• If I’m sure I’m right about something, I don’t waste much time listening to other people’s arguments
• It is difficult for me to understand what makes my friends happy
• I often find it difficult to see things from the other person’s point of view (Greater Good Science, 2019)
Strongly agreeing with these statements might suggest that a person would benefit from building their empathy skills, especially if they are interested in taking on employment that requires a lot of it.
Remember though, that your own level of empathy can change from day to day. If we are unwell, we tend to become more focused on ourselves which reduces our capacity for listening to and understanding others. While another person is unwell, we can’t expect them to be as excited as we are about things. We recognises in these cases that people are ‘not themselves’ and tend to give them leeway… or at least we do if we are empathetic!
Greater Good Science. (2019). Empathy Quiz. Retrieved from Greater Good Magazine. Science based insights for a meaning ful life:
Lucas, S. (2019, April 4). How to use empathy to improve your workplace. Retrieved from The balance careers:
Stillman, J. (2014, August 22). 3 Habits that will increase your empathy. Retrieved from Inc.com: