How to Develop Skills in Empathy

Sections of this topic

    Test – How Good Are Your Empathy Skills Now?

    Also, consider
    Related Library Topics

    Test – How Good Are Your Empathy Skills Now?

    Before reading more about empathy and empathy skills, it might be interesting to get an impression of the level of your skills now. Take this online quiz.

    The Empathy Test

    So what do you want to improve about your skills now? Consider the many guidelines in this topic.

    Understand Your Biases and How They Affect Others

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

    Your biases play a major role in how you perceive others. Your perceptions are your reality, whether they are the reality of someone else or not. Differences in perception between you and others can make the difference between successful leadership and a complete disaster. So know your own biases! For example:

    • Do you believe that leaders should “take charge” and lead from the front of the organization? If so, you might encounter frustration and resistance when working with others who believe that leaders should lead from the middle.
    • Do you believe that others should just “shut up and listen to you?” If so, they will probably only do what you say – and no more – until their frustration is overwhelming and they leave.
    • Do you believe that meetings should start and end on time? If so, you will certainly be frustrated with people from cultures that place far less emphasis on time.
    • Do you believe that most problems would be solved if people just did “what they were supposed to do”? What if people really do not know what they are supposed to do?

    How to Put Yourself “in Their Shoes” – Skills in Empathy

    What Is Empathy? Why Is It So Important?

    Empathy is the ability to accurately put yourself “in someone else’s shoes”– to understand the other’s situation, perceptions, and feelings from their point of view – and to be able to communicate that understanding back to the other person. Empathy is a critical skill for you to have as a leader.

    It contributes to an accurate understanding of your employees, their perceptions, and concerns. It also enhances your communication skills because you can sense what others want to know and if they are getting it from you or not. Ideally, your employees can learn skills in empathy from you, thereby helping them to become more effective leaders, managers, and supervisors themselves.

    Empathy is sometimes confused with sympathy. Sympathy involves actually being affected by the other person’s perceptions, opinions, and feelings. For example, if an employee is frustrated and sad, the sympathetic leader would experience the same emotions, resulting in the leader many times struggling
    with the same issues as the employee. Thus, sympathy can actually get in the way of effective leadership.

    Guidelines to Develop Empathy

    1. Experience the major differences among people.

    One of the best examples of strong skills in empathy is people who have traveled or worked in multicultural environments. They have learned that the way they see and experience things is often different from others.

    People with little or no skills in empathy might have an intellectual awareness of these differences. However, until they actually experience these differences, their skills in empathy
    will probably remain quite limited.

    2. Learn to identify your own feelings – develop some emotional intelligence.

    Many of us are so “processed” and “sophisticated” about feelings that we cannot readily identify them in ourselves, much less in others. For example, we might perceive thoughts to be the same as feelings. So when someone asks you how you feel about a project, you might respond, “I think we have a lot to do.” Or, we might not distinguish between related emotions, for example, between frustration and irritability or happiness and excitement.

    3. Regularly ask others for their perspectives and/or feelings regarding a situation.

    Silently compare their responses to what you might have thought they would be. This approach not only helps you to sharpen your own empathic skills but also helps you to learn more about your employees.

    Additional Perspectives on Developing Skills in Empathy

    Also, consider

    Related Library Topics

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to This Topic

    In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to this topic. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also, see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the
    sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to
    numerous free related resources.

    For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

    Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.