I got curious last week!  After seeing a lot of posts about leaders needing to have empathy, I started to wonder if other people thought that it was something that could be developed or if it was something that you’re born with. Naturally, I did what a lot of curious people do and I posted a poll on LinkedIn.

Here are the results….

Like most respondents, I believe that it is a trait/skill that can be developed.  It won’t always come as easy to those with a stronger innate empathy talent. It’s a little like trying to improve your weaknesses.  It can be done though!

Confirmation bias be damned – I headed down the google rabbit hole to find some articles about this topic.

First, what exactly is empathy? Oxford defines it as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Depending on the situation, it’s hard to understand what other people are going through if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, making it seem more difficult to be empathic.

I did find a lot of articles that suggested that empathy is a learned behaviour.  One in particular from Psychology Today had this to say “…the extent of your own emotional intelligence—your ability to know what you’re feeling, to accurately label and name different emotions with precision, and to use your emotions to inform your thinking—will make it easier or harder for you to be empathic. The more connected you are to your own emotions, the greater your ability to feel for others.”

During my search,  I also found a great video from Brene Brown talking about the 4 attributes of Empathy.  It’s a short one and definitely worth the watch!  You can find it here.

Try This...

Be curious!  One of the ideas that came up repeatedly for developing empathy was Talk to New People.  Now, if you happen to have Relator in your top 5 strengths or are an introvert, poking yourself in the eye might feel more enjoyable.  It doesn’t have to be a “new” person – invite an acquaintance for coffee or lunch and get to know them better.  Go beyond the surface level “what do you think of this weather?” conversation and really try to understand their life.  Put the phones away and practice some active listening.

OR – follow someone on Social Media whose life looks a lot different than yours and free your curiosity.  Ask yourself, “If I were in their position, how would I feel?” 

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