The Bookbyte Blog
The 10 Essential Soft Skills List: 5 – Empathy
Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is widely considered to be the most critical soft skill and leadership skill. Unlike sympathy—in which you understand and feel for someone—empathy involves putting yourself in another's shoes, identifying with them, and feeling as them. It's important to note that with empathy you aim to see and feel as the other person does in their shoes—not as you would in their shoes. Empathy is all about removing yourself and experiencing the other person's mental and emotional perspective.
So why is empathy so important for employers to see in job candidates?
A 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study by Businessolver found that ninety-one percent of CEOs believe empathy is directly linked to a company's financial performance. [i] The same study also found that employers and employees agree that empathy is a core foundational component of organizational success. Empathetic employees are known to build meaningful professional relationships with greater trust and rapport that raise employee engagement and increases their communication effectiveness.
How can I build this soft skill?
Developing empathy as a professional skill can be easier for some than others. As human beings, we are naturally empathetic to a degree, but that degree varies with each person. Ever watch the movie Armageddon or The Fault in Our Stars and tear up a little (or a lot)? Or have you ever been compelled to yawn after someone else does nearby? [ii] If you answered yes to both questions, then you could be an empath—or someone with a greater sense of empathy. If you didn't cry from watching those tearjerker movies, it's okay, you're not heartless! You may just need to work a little harder to build this skill. Below are a few ways to improve your empathy.
To be empathetic towards another involves being both mentally and emotionally available and learning to really listen to the other person and not just hear them. Active listening, another invaluable soft skill, involves listening with your whole body and providing verbal and nonverbal feedback as someone else speaks. It does take time and practice, but active listening goes a long way toward creating much more meaningful communication.
Taking the time to check in with others on previous conversations to see how they're feeling demonstrates your concern, makes them feel heard and shows you value their emotions. Maybe you've had a chance to collect more of your own thoughts and feelings since then? Offer those up and provide more value—but be sure to listen first!
Be curious and ask questions
Asking follow-up questions or just questions in general shows a person you're taking interest in them and you're willing to engage in deeper conversation to learn more about them. The most important thing to remember here is to be genuine.
Seek outside perspective
If you can, find people who will be straight-forward with you ask them for their perspective often. Ask them to share how they feel. Request feedback on your own behavior. You do all this enough, in many different scenarios, and you'll start to become more empathetic and sensitive to how people generally are affected by you and the world around them.
Another great way to gain outside perspective and build empathy is to read more books, especially those in a first-person narrative. This way you see as the protagonist does and can read along and experience their perspective. Albeit they're fictional most times, the authors tend to be highly empathetic and can really write emotionally-compelling literature.
In all things professionally, you want to do your best to create harmony and efficiency. A big part of this happens through strong interpersonal relationships with highly engaged individuals willing to go above and beyond for each other. Empathy, beyond good communication, will do most of the heavy lifting. If you have some extra time, take this empathy quiz to get an idea of where you currently stand. Ultimately, empath or not, we can all improve our sensitivity for others.
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