As we meet people and enter new situations, our brains are sorting - mostly based on gut reactions. This sort is largely superficial and drawn from initial instincts, but the ramifications of that initial categorization can be vast. Employing the skills of empathy and curiosity can help us check our assumptions and explore our thinking. It can also uncover biases we might have, as each connection point becomes fertile ground for increasing likability and moving us all to the High-Performance Zone (Fuller & Murphy, 2020, pg. 97).
Empathy is an emotive process in the emotional region of the brain and an interpersonal approach to building a connection with our heart. It is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and relate to how they feel. Empathy is a key part of understanding another person’s perspective, or story, in order to limit our own bias and misunderstanding. Empathy is easier with those who share our In-Group Biases. It is more challenging (and more valuable when we are trying to mitigate bias) to have empathy for people who are not in our traditional in-groups.
Curiosity is a mental process in the thinking region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and an intellectual approach to cultivating connection. It is the desire to learn more about someone or something that involves asking insightful questions, truly listening for responses, and building conversation from those responses and commonality. When we are curious, it helps us learn about others’ experiences, often shedding light on biases we have. We all have the capacity to be curious.
Empathy and curiosity reinforce each other and fuel connection. We all have the capacity to learn and practice skills of empathy and curiosity toward ourselves and others, helping us surface, manage, and address our biases.