How To Develop Empathy Skills
Empathy is the ability to understand and share feelings with others. It’s an important skill that can help us connect with people, and it can also be helpful when we’re trying to resolve conflicts. Here are five tips to help you develop empathy skills.
Why Empathy Matters?
According to influential psychologist Daniel Goleman, being able to empathize with others is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence (Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, Social Skills)–a leadership skill that is vital to achieve greater success. Being able to put oneself in another person’s shoes and understand their emotions can be incredibly helpful when negotiating or leading a team.
And empathy is also essential in your intimate relationship.
When empathy is not present, people lose a sense of security. Without trust, your relationship will not last long. You’ll also want to include empathy in your repertoire of communication skills.
Empathy helps to build trust between managers and team members and to develop honesty and openness. On a personal level, empathy is one of the top 3 skills to master to build a bond with your significant other. It is one of the key ingredients to create and maintain a secure relationship.
The Three Stages Of Developing Empathy
Empathy develops through three stages: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand and intellectually share the emotions of others, regardless of whether they are physically present. This is a mostly rational ability, which allows you to think critically and empathize with others on an intellectual level. Cognitive empathy is emotionally neutral–meaning that it doesn’t involve feeling emotional yourself. This makes it a valuable tool for thinking through complex problems and communicating with others effectively.
Then, there is emotional empathy. Emotional empathy is when you “feel into” another person’s experience and draw conclusions. This is also the place where you need to watch yourself. People with weak boundaries will unconsciously attempt to take away people’s pain because it is uncomfortable for them to feel another’s pain. This can lead to resentfulness and burnout. To overcome this, take on the perspective that you are doing people a disservice not to let them learn their life lessons. It’s okay to ask if they need support, but check your intention for why you are asking.
Compassionate empathy is when you offer emotional support and guidance as they get through their tough time. With compassionate empathy, you are there for support and to remind them that everything will be okay in the end.
How To Develop Your Empathy Skills
If you’re not careful, your own assumptions and beliefs can crowd out your ability to empathize with others. This can lead to misunderstandings and sometimes even conflict. It’s important to be open-minded and consider other people’s perspectives, even if you don’t agree with them. You’ll want to incorporate this “open mindedness” into your communication skills.
Once you investigate why others believe what they believe, you can acknowledge your differences.
And I’m not saying you have to like or agree with the other person. What matters is if you are maintaining a sense of trust. You form trust when you have empathy for other’s perspective.
With empathy, remember that what the other person wants and needs is always at the forefront of your mind. Any actions or suggestions you make must benefit them and not simply meet your own needs or desires.
How To Improve Empathy Skills?
Are you interested in improving your empathy skills? Try these practices:
- Investigate assumptions and inferences
- Take a genuine interest in someone’s perspective
- Ask questions about why someone thinks the way they do
- Remind yourself you don’t have to like or agree with them to have empathy
- Remind yourself that the more empathetic you are to people’s life challenges, the more they will trust you
- Scan your body language to make sure there is congruency between what you are saying and how your body reflects that or not
- Check often to see if you are in your head or heart as you listen to people? Are you comparing, judging, or actually listening to their perspective?
Finally, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were in their shoes?” Remember, make it about others, not yourself.
Other Things You Can Do To Improve Empathy Skills
Ask for constructive feedback. In the workplace, it’s important to self improve to guarantee your survival. More than ever, that matters today. Seek mentors that are in the same meetings or people who know you and that you respect. If none of those are options, team up with a peer who attends the same meetings and offer to give each other private feedback, intending to build your empathy skills.
Practice empathizing with others. Hang out with peers. Without them knowing it, listen to them. Ask how their life is going. Empathize back what you are hearing. Practice what you are learning in this article. Later on, reflect on how it went, and what you would do differently next time.
Add empathy to day-to-day communication skills. For example, “What I am hearing is that you’re scared you won’t pass the RealEstate exam? Yes, I can only image what that must feel like for you.” Add a reminder to your smart phone if needed.
Examples of Empathic Skills and What To Include in Empathy Training
In empathy training, there are a combination of practices that, when combined, create healthy empathic skills. Empathy training is good for any individual. It is especially good for organizations who want to improve customer satisfaction ratings, and want higher employee engagement.
Empathy skills training will have a high rate of return if you can link it to measurable performance metrics that may increase the bottom line like turnover, increase customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and retention of your high performing employees.
As far as what skills to teach or emphasize?
Here are a few:
Active Listening Empathy - The essence of active listening, it to suspend any judgment, criticism, or comparison and adding your own opinion. The goal of active listening is to stay in touch with what core message the person is trying to convey. When you actively listen, you are also not waiting to give advice. With active listening, you’ll want to suspend any advice or opinion you may have as you listen.
Curiosity - When you move into curiosity, you suspend comparing what is being told to your own map of reality. Instead, orient towards seeking to understand what core message a person is trying to convey or to come up with new ideas.
Self Awareness - When you can witness what you are thinking and redirect your thoughts, you are self aware. Self-awareness is the holy grail to consciously directing yourself through life. The alternative is to allow your implicit memory system to direct you via habituated beliefs and patterns that may actually be based on missing information.
Emotional Intelligence - When we are emotionally intelligent, we are aware of how our interactions with the world are affecting our results.
Open Mindedness - When we are open-minded, we are in a state of curiosity and wonder. We genuinely want to hear and see all sides to a topic and explore all implications. In a work environment, this means suspending any judgment or criticism that may get evoked when we hear others’ opinions or suggestions. In your personal life, it means seeking more information from a person who may have a contradictory point of view. Instead of shooting the messenger, you seek more information to re-inform you so you can verify if you are missing information that is causing you to draw the conclusions you are having.
Repeating and Paraphrasing - This strategy works well when you are getting overwhelmed and need a break from information overload. It also works well for people who are speaking out loud as they sort through their own conclusions. When people hear what they have shared, it provides a feedback loop for them to check to see if they are communicating effectively and possibly if they need to say more or articulate the message differently.
Put Yourself in The Others Shoes - When you can put yourself in another’s shoes, it’s much easier to have an empathetic response. Humans are wired to help each other. We can naturally draw on compassion when we feel into another’s experience. But don’t confuse that with the desire to fix. Try to remember we naturally want to learn and be self-confident. We have an innate sense to master life so we can survive. If you take that from someone, they may appreciate it short term, but in the long term, they will become resentful because you have robbed them of the training they must go through to gain mastery.
- Body Movement
- Facial Expressions
- Eye Contact
- Hand Gestures
- Tone of Voice
I will also add, if you want to excel in achieving customer satisfaction skills training, you’ll want to train individuals or teams in empathy.
Empathy Affects Positive Outcomes
Less Stress: Catalyst’s new study of 889 employees found that empathy has some significant constructive effects.Specifically, the study found that those who are more empathetic are more likely to be engaged with their work and report lower levels of stress.
In the study, they also looked at how empathy affected retention. What they found was 57% of white women and 62% of women of color feel their life circumstances are respected and valued by their companies, say they are unlikely to consider leaving. However, when these women don’t feel this level of respect or value for their life circumstances, only 14% (white women) and 30% (woman of color) say they are unlikely to leave.
Leaders who can evoke empathy in their employees are more likely to have them engaged and motivated. 76% of those surveyed who felt empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged in their work, compared with only 32% who felt less empathy. These findings suggest that, when leaders care about their employees and understand how their emotions affect their behavior, they can foster a more productive and cohesive team.
As it applies to innovation, the study found that leaders who are empathetic encourage innovation in their employees, leading to 61% more reports of employee creativity. In contrast, those with less-empathetic leaders only 13% of the time report being able to be innovative.
Empathy is an important leadership quality, and many organizations are striving to create more inclusive workplaces. This same study found that 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership. These findings suggest that creating a supportive environment where everyone is treated equally is key to fostering innovation and creativity.
Work-Life Balance: When leaders are more empathetic, employees feel more able to juggle their personal, family, and work obligations. The Catalyst report also showed that 86% of employees who reported they are successful at doing so when leaders exhibit empathy. Comparatively, 60% of employees who felt less empathy found it difficult to successfully manage their work and life demands.
High Leverage Places To Develop Empathy Skills Training
Both the workplace and at home are high leverage places to train people in empathy skills.
In the workplace, there are a few high leverage, or high ROI, places to invest in empathy training:
- Customer Satisfaction Call Centers
- Lunchroom Serving Staff
- Team Meetings
- Manager Relationships
- All organizational leaders require empathy competency (Especially in Hi-Tech or Labs where the average employee is being hired for their intellectual abilities, not people skills.)
Each of these areas requires emotional intelligence empathy skills training. Consider any place where active listening is vital for a person’s success, empathy skills training is equally important.
If you invest the time and energy in empathy skill development, you’ll change the company culture for the better. Empathy is required for the brain to feel secure. When the brain of another human feels secure, trust builds. No empathy, no trust.
Home is equally important to embody empathy skills if you want a relationship that thrives. Here are a few places in yourself to consider applying empathy skills to enhance your empathy responses:
- During conflict: Learn to feel the signs of conflict. Shift into empathy when someone is expressing themselves versus being reactive. Stop being reactive and instead practice repeating back what you are hearing; asking if you understand the underlying need they are trying to convey; that you feel bad about what it must be like for them; that you trust they can handle the challenge; and you are there to support them if they want it.
- When disappointment is revealing itself, move into empathetic responses. People naturally want to not feel alone when life challenges have them down. They feel safer when they know they can turn to someone and sort things out. Make it safe and have empathy for whatever is causing their disappointment. Sometimes reaching over and providing physical touch can go a long way in helping them lower their distress and worry.
What You Can Do Today To Build Your Own Empathy Skills
To get started developing your organization, team, or your own empathy skills here is a plan that can work:
Commitment: Without a commitment from top management, empathy skills training will only affect the people who take a genuine interest in their own development. Top management, including the CEO, needs to embrace the value of developing empathy skills. They need to see how to apply it to their day-to-day activities and show it so it becomes part of your company culture. At home, discuss the importance of empathy with your significant other and children. Build empathy practices into your daily life and you will see how your relationships thrive and enhance your quality of life and increase your chance of success in life.
Practice: To become an empathetic person, practice every day. Whether you are a leader-manager or a husband-wife-father-mother, you will want to engage in empathy skills until they are second nature to you. Look for opportunities to repeat back what you are hearing. Inquire and ask questions for further clarification about someone’s distressing experience. Avoid fixing. Instead, ask questions. Ask what people need as a resource to gain momentum. Be patient. Trust they are capable. Brainstorm with others if they seem stuck. Help them come up with the answers to help build their own self-worth and confidence.
Reflection: At the end of every day for a few weeks, ask yourself how you are doing with empathy. Look for emotional reactions. Study them. Learn from them. By making it a daily habit, you will eventually see the subtle places where you can use more empathy skills in your life. In time, you will naturally exude empathy and your relationship will thrive because people will feel safe around you.
Here is what to reflect on:
- Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and see their perspective.
- What result did you get? Notice any themes?
- What could you have done differently to enhance empathy? Where did you lack empathy and what would you do differently as you reflect on that situation?
- What part of empathetic communications do you need more help with?
- When is the next time you can plan to engage in more empathy skills? What will you do differently?
- Feel empathy in your body as you imagine yourself following through and succeeding. (This builds the neurotransmitters faster in your implicit memory system, so it’s not so hard to remember.)
Trust grows when empathy is present. When you look closely at those relationships, they are very surface and non-committal. They may work for short-term success, but there is no sense of reliable trust building.
The reason to learn and feel empathy is that it’s the glue that builds trust. It calms down a part of a human brain that looks for danger and wants to be safe. Humans have no choice in this matter. We are wired to guarantee our survival and will do so at any expense.
When a person feels safe, they give their best. At home, that translates into more intimacy and more creativity. At work that translates into higher productivity, better ideas and solutions, more collaborative teams, and ultimately a higher return on investment in your workforce.
Commitment to practice is how you get there. Remind yourself. Consciously choose to practice with a coach, your spouse, as a team building exercise. Bring it up in senior staff meetings. Have your leadership team come prepared to share how used empathy and how it affected the organization. Send the message learning and using empathy is a non-negotiable. Then, above all, model healthy empathy yourself. ☺️
Ed Ferrigan has been teaching individuals, couples, groups and teams communication skills for the past 25 years. You can learn more about his unique model by heading on over to https://edferrigan.com. Be sure to check out is different programs for online learning while you are there.this is my description