Most important soft skill? Many say so. It continues to top the charts of studies that preach empathy is critical to one’s success. After coaching people for almost two decades, I would agree based on my experience.
A formal definition of empathy is the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It is our capacity to recognize the concerns other people have. Empathy means: “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” or “seeing things through someone else’s eyes.”
In a popular Harvard Business Review article entitled “What Makes a Leader?”, Dr. Daniel Goleman isolates three reasons why empathy is so important: the increasing use of teams, (which he refers to as “cauldrons of bubbling emotions”), the rapid pace of globalization (with cross cultural communication easily leading to misunderstandings) and the growing need to retain talent.
“Leaders with empathy,” states Goleman, “do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways.” This doesn’t mean that they agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, they “thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”
Thoughtfully considering other people’s feelings. More than in your head – this must also touch the heart. To make a difference you must authentically CARE. Most of the time, this is a muscle you can grow. How does this relate to brand or business? Is your personal brand empathetic? Pushy? Narcissistic? Combative? We could go on an on…in business? There are numerous studies that link empathy to business results. They include studies that correlate empathy with increased sales, with the performance of the best managers of product development teams and with enhanced performance in an increasingly diverse workforce.
Here are a few practical tips you might consider to help you do this:
Listen – truly listen to people. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Body language and tone of voice – but pay attention to deeper things including the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you, and to the context. Take a personal interest in people. You can’t care about someone you don’t actually know – ask questions, LISTEN for the answer.
GET A COACH. Speed up this process. Without empathy, you’re sunk.