Empathy is something we can all do. When we are paying attention to other people and suspending our judgment about what they are saying, we can understand their experiences and feelings and emotions. Curiosity about people and their situations fuels empathy.
Application for Leaders
1. Have Empathy. The deepest need that people have is to belong and feel understood. When we have empathy, we help satisfy these needs. To practice empathy, consider these specific suggestions:
Position yourself physically at the same level.
Be fully present as you listen.
Restate words and identify feelings to show you understand.
The goal of empathy is not to have the answer but to listen. You do not have to agree; you just need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
2. Be Curious. Being curious leads to great discoveries about yourself and your biases, as well as other people and their points of view. To be curious, ask yourself:
What am I thinking or feeling?
What are they thinking or feeling?
What biases are surfacing, both positive and negative?
Remember, we are connecting so we can face our biases, both in ourselves and in others. When we ask ourselves what biases we are noticing, we can see them more clearly.
3. Build a Connection. Empathy and curiosity help us to learn and build relationships based on what is the same and what is different. Ask yourself:
What do we both care about?
How am I like this person?
What do I respect or like about this person?
These three may be easy to talk about, but not always easy to do. Take some time to reflect on how you can authentically learn about others and build meaningful relationships.