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7 Ways To Develop Your Empathy Skills

Businesses are surrounded by people – investors, customers, partners, stakeholders, and employees. This makes empathy a vital skill for success. Only when a business is aligned with the perspectives and needs of all involved, it can flourish.  

According to research by Business Solver, 80% of employees, HR professionals and CEOs agreed that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on business performance, motivating workers, and increasing productivity.

While empathy makes people better managers, workers, family members, and friends, it solves for a bigger purpose than just personal impact.

Empathy Is A Learned Behavior

Some people are more naturally empathetic than others, but there are evidenced-based activities that anyone can do to increase their empathy. The best way to think about empathy is that it is an innate capacity that needs to be developed.

It always starts with looking at the big picture. For example, infants learn to identify and regulate their emotions based on the interactions they have with their mothers. A mother who is receptive to her child’s needs allows her child to thrive and develop emotionally.

By having the emotional states recognized and responded to, the groundwork is laid for the child’s sense of self and sense of others. With time, this grows into empathy and builds capacity for meaningful connections.

7 Ways to Develop Your Empathy Skills

Developing empathy is not easy. It will take work and effort on your part. You will need to be more conscious and aware of yourself, others, and your shared surroundings.

Initially, as you work through the following ways to develop empathy, you may struggle a little and it may take a significant amount of concentration on your part. After a while, when you start feeling comfortable, you can begin to adjust and adapt these practices to each person and situation.

# 1.  Become Aware of Your Hidden Biases

Consider this scenario: Your colleague is not delivering a project on time and you feel that it is taking more time than needed. You think that your colleague is not capable. 
Now, do this: In your mind, replace this person with a high performer in your team who is taking the same time to do it. Would you have said the same thing about them? Most probably, not.

We all have hidden biases that interfere with our ability to empathize. The first step is to recognize these biases. But before we do that it is important to acknowledge the fact that being biased is not a bad thing.  We are all biased. However, we should always try to dwell into our blind spots and keep a check on our hidden biases.

One effective way to do that is substitution. Substitute one person for another and ask yourself would you still feel the same way? Would you still respond the same way? It like learning to do a bit of internal spying, to check yourself and think: why do I feel that way about someone?

# 2.  Hear to Listen

Consider this scenario: Your stakeholder upset about a situation at work. You feel that they are just overthinking it and start giving unsolicited advice.
Now, do this: Think about how different the conversation would have been if you would have just asked them what is upsetting them. Most probably, you would have understood their perspective better and co-created a way to deal with the situation.

To do empathetic listening, we need to get out of our own headspace. We need to engage in listening and have curious conversations to unlock what matters most.  Encourage perspective-taking sessions so you could get a lot of insight into the point of view of others. Listen closely to how employees and customers talk about their work or the product and ask them how you could make their jobs easier.

# 3.  Walk in Their Shoes

Consider this scenario: Your customer is the CTO of a retail company and is facing issues in your product. He is threatening to unsubscribe from your services and has been sending frantic emails every day. You are reporting this customer as a ‘troublemaker’ in the company.
Now, do this: Consider yourself as a CTO of a retail company and imagine that your biggest revenue generating campaign of the year is at stake because of the product issues. There is a likelihood of getting fired if it does not work. Would you still think he is being a troublemaker? Probably not.

It is important to take the time to talk with customers and employees and understand what is on their mind. Employees are generally at the front line of business and customers are the source of profits. Understanding their state of mind is especially important.

When a company takes the time to empathize with the concerns and insights of customers and employees, they can gain valuable information to piece into its strategy for improving the business.

# 4.  Take Meaningful Actions

Consider this scenario: A team member is unable to focus on work because of a problem at home. You ask them to work from home until the situation is resolved.
Now, do this: Think about how different it would have been if instead of telling them what they can do, you would have asked them what you could do to help them. Maybe work from home is not the right solution for them as coming to work is a welcome respite from thinking about the painful situation at home.

There is no one “right way” to demonstrate empathy. It will depend on the situation, the individual, and their dominant emotion at the time. Remember, empathy is not about what you want, but what the other person wants and needs, so any action you take or suggest must benefit them.

# 5.  Embrace Vulnerability

Consider this scenario: There has been an issue in a project and your leadership is questioning you. You are checking with your team on what went wrong and realize that you made an error. You get back to the management saying that it was a miss from the team and the team gets upset about it.
Now, do this: Think about how different it would have been if you would have accepted your mistake. What would have been different? One probability could have been that your team would have backed you by rectifying the error.  The management would have also appreciated your courage and authenticity.

Be open to let people know that you too are subject to mistakes, regrets, and frustration. Criticism and rejection can have an impact on you too. This can make you more relatable to your workers, leaving them feeling less defeated by their shortcomings.

# 6.  Develop a Culture of Mutual Respect

Consider this scenario: In a strategy meeting, your team is sharing ideas on what direction the business should take. While some of your team members are giving great ideas, one team member is giving ideas that are not feasible. So, you keep shooting them down.
Now, do this: If instead of shooting down the ideas, you ask the team member to explain why they felt their ideas are good. What do you think the impact would have been? One scenario could be that more ideas would have emerged from their reasoning and maybe other could have built on it. 

Respect makes people more engaged as it gives them a safe space to express their thoughts. There is an intangible value to feeling respected by colleagues and managers. When you create such environments, people treat respect as personal responsibility and contribute to it.

# 7.  Practice Emotional Detachment

Consider this scenario: Your colleague comes and discusses how unfair their manager has been. They feel targeted and unheard. You develop a negative perspective towards that manager and start to see everything they do in a negative way.
Now, do this: Ask yourself why this may be happening with your colleague? Try to see it from both perspectives and understand what the core issue is.  Often, you would find the problem to be more systemic than personal.

It is very easy to get emotionally drawn into the other person’s world, where their problems, pain, and experiences essentially become our problems, pain, and experiences. This can very quickly become overwhelming and interfere with our quality of life and our ability to help others. Hence, we must detach emotionally from other people’s experiences. This, of course, will not be easy but it’s something that we must do to maintain a healthy state-of-mind.

Empathy, just like any other skill, takes time to practice and master. It requires you to develop your listening skills as well as your emotional intelligence. Moreover, it requires you to have a genuine interest in other people. Mindful practice and applications can help you develop empathy as a winning skill in your personal and professional lives.

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