Empathy is a critical component in developing high-performing teams and organizational culture that others want to work in.
Empathy–the ability to understand and share the feelings of another is a skill. Some personality types are gifted with strong degrees of empathy (i.e. ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP), and others are gifted in different areas.
If you struggle to be empathetic, here is a tip that has helped my clients to super-charge their ability to empathize. According to the Discrete Emotion Theory, there are 6 basic emotions:
Tell yourself stories of times when you felt each of these emotions. Since these six exist in varying degrees, it may be easier for you to pick times when you felt these emotions more intensely. As you tell yourself the story you should sense yourself feeling that particular emotion in the present. If you are not then you are not giving yourself enough details of that story. So really get into it.
Practice telling yourself those stories until you can feel those emotions in the present. Let yourself get a little freaked out by how much you can influence your own emotions in this way. The more you practice, the faster you can experience the emotion in the present.
Now, when a colleague, direct report, etc. is talking to you, identify what the emotion is that they are feeling. You can do that by listening to what emotive terms they use (i.e. "I felt hurt;" "I was enraged;" "I was thrilled;" etc.). You can also test it by saying something like, “It sounds like you were angry. Am I off?” The “Am I off?” is important because it shows you want to understand them. If you are off, they are less likely to be offended or to feel like you don’t value them.
When you hear the emotive term, silently start to tell yourself a story of when you felt what the other felt. If you’ve practiced, you will feel the emotion they are expressing pretty quickly. Because the other person senses that you feel what they feel their connection to you will grow.
They will feel like you genuinely get them.
Chew On This: Think of a time when you were absolutely cracking up with laughter. Describe the story until you are laughing in the present.
If you have any questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (404) 421-8120.
Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.