We live in a culture that has created several bold, new ways of communicating but done very little in teaching people how to communicate. The proliferation of smart phones and social media networks has definitely made people communicate more frequently, more creatively and more unabashedly. But is it subsiding empathy, the uniquely human gift of walking in someone’s shoes? Why is empathy important?
Empathy helps us nurture healthier, long-lasting relationships with our spouses, friends and colleagues. Empathy is not the same as sensitivity. I can be sensitive to someone’s pain and still experience no change in my behaviour towards this person. Or I can offer a solution to this person and later tell myself, ‘I was sensitive to his needs and I gave him a solution.’ But empathy has nothing do with intellectual understanding and problem-solving. Empathy is the ability to totally identify with another person. Empathy means walking a mile in their shoes and experiencing their pain or happiness until we truly ‘become’ them, if only for a moment. If we get to this state, no intellectualization of the other’s life is necessary. We will now automatically know how to behave with this person because once we have identified with him we cannot be unkind to him without being unkind to our own previous selves. So sensitivity is an action whereas empathy is a state of mind, a way of being that unlocks the best possible emotional response towards the other.
How to totally identify with another? There is no magic formula or app for that. Everyone has experienced pain, pleasure, hope and a variety of other human emotions. All we need to do to unlock our sense of empathy is ask ourselves:
- What is this person feeling right now?
- Have I felt that way ever?
If you can honestly answer those questions, you gain a more emotionally nuanced understanding of the other. When that happens, you refrain from applying your intelligence and experience to his life, something people love to do. We all love advising, guiding, judging, condemning. Empathy is about suspending the ‘you’ in the conversation and wholly orienting yourself towards the other. This means a reprieve from selfishness. Building this skill can go a long way in altering your story of others and when that happens, they, in turn, alter their story of you and are inspired to trust, respect and like you much more.
About the Author:
Sandhya Reddy is a leadership & transformation coach based in Bangalore, India. She is the Founder and Principal Coach at Chapter Two Coaching, a coaching consultancy that enables everyone from CEOs to work-from-home parents to achieve their goals by replacing self-imposed limitations with enabling stories.
Many of us in our thirties experience a disquieting realization: what brought us to middle-management may not take us to senior-management. This is true. To chart a new career path, one needs to think and do things differently. This is where Sandhya can help. She is a coach. Life coaching, executive coaching, business coaching, personality development, leadership coaching… they are all part of her forte. Her Executive coaching programs helps tomorrow’s leaders set new goals, make new plans to achieve those goals, get that elusive promotion through a blend of knowledge, action and image-building, enhance influence among the leadership team, be more productive, get more out of one’s team, and be known in the company as an indispensable performer and future leader.