Why empathy is the skill you need for work-place success

Empathy is the most powerful people-skill you can develop because it quickly reduces tension and allows the other person to feel they are heard and understood. When the other person feels understood, they feel the relationship is safe and bonds of trust and collaboration can begin to grow. And, the other person becomes more willing to hear your thoughts, because they are not on the defensive.

I often work with leaders who resist practicing empathy, because they falsely assume empathy means “agreement.” Rather, empathy and empathic listening is the practice of acknowledging in your own words the thoughts and feelings of the other person – even if it differs wildly from your own point of view.

Empathy is the skill of getting inside the mindset and perspective of the person you are listening too. Like putting on a coat, you are trying on how they feel about the world around them and how they see themselves when they put on that coat and look in the mirror. The mirror is a reflection; not an agreement or even the truth. To practice empathy, simply restate what you “see” when wearing their coat. It might sound like “You’re feeling frustrated that your team-mate was late with the proposal,” or “This situation is really difficult and causing you doubts,” or “Many new-hires in your circumstance feel the same way. It’s not surprising you’re having these feelings.” Note that these are not statements of agreement; like the mirror, they are a reflection of wearing the mental “coat” of the other person.

The other person will give you feedback on how well you did articulating their frame of mind. Continue to acknowledge and validate their feelings until they feel heard, understood and begin to open up to you. Then they’ll be ready to hear and follow your input and advice without feeling defensive.

Acknowledging and validating the feelings of another, is the fastest route there is to building a strong relationship.

Susan Clarine