The Power of Empathy

Do emotions belong at work?  If we show emotion, will we be valued or will it diminish our image or our ability to affect change?  Can they help us form stronger bonds or do they make us appear weak?

It depends to some degree on the emotion, of course, and how it is expressed.  Some emotions (rage, for example) are never appropriate at work, but is that true of all emotions?  Are there some that are not only appropriate, but beneficial?

Let’s look at empathy for a moment.  Empathy is the ability to sense other’ feelings and perspectives, and take an active interest in their concerns.  It is the ability to put yourself in another’s place and to take that perspective into account.

People who express empathy are attentive to and able to attune to a wide range of emotional signals.  They listen for and sense what someone is feeling but not saying.  They are able to show sensitivity to and understand other’ perspectives.

So is this a strength or a weakness?  Let’s consider the opposite scenario.  People lacking empathy show no understanding, or misunderstand, or are surprised by others’ feelings or actions.  They have trouble “reading” people and what they are thinking and feeling.  They stereotype others and often experience conflict with others, and tend to act without considering how others might feel about something.  People who do not exhibit empathy frequently come across as indifferent or uncaring.

Consider the potential ramifications of non-empathetic behaviors… getting people offside, teams breaking down, insecurities emerging, attrition of key employees, failure to reach a successful conclusion in negotiations or contracts, loss of sales, decreased performance, conflict with managers, peers or subordinates, overlooking skills and talents, and so on.  How many of these have an impact on the bottom line?  The risk, therefore, is higher in NOT developing empathy in your organization.

Someone with strong leadership qualities is able to shift gears, think from another’s point of view, and use that information to build consensus, negotiate successfully, and build trust.  Empathetic behaviors create benefits for the individual, those they interact with, and the organization as a whole.  Empathy can be a powerful tool in your career development, even it is an emotion.

Empathy is one of the competencies measured in the personalized ISEI Emotional Intelligence profile.  Contact us for more information.