Empathy: the 7th Care Degree

“Labour for learning before you grow old, for learning is better than silver and gold. Silver and gold will vanish away, but a good education will never decay”.  Recited as a child in the devotion halls, these words still stick to memory, like glue. 

To listen. To put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To be considerate. These words come to mind when I think about Empathy.  It is a learned skill, transcending cultures, enterprises and personalities.  It is arguably the most critical skill to navigate in this ever-complex world. 

Someone once said, can you see your own eyes? If you could, would it change how you react to others? 

We each have those moments, when someone – a friend, an employee, a family member – reaches out to talk about a concern. They seek an anchor of support, to find strength to overcome, to bring peace, comfort and reassurance, that all will be well and that the ultimate answer lies within. When these moments happen, how confident are you that you are able to show up for that someone?

 The beauty in these moments, is the realization and acknowledgement that it is not about you.  It’s all about the person reaching out.  This is empathy. 

Check out this incredible short film demonstrating what Empathy.   In it, Brené Brown highlights the significance of making connection with others.

I belong to a group of coaching practitioners who have embraced the mantra of “touching lives”.  It is such a powerful concept.  I would like to share a story about someone who demonstrated empathy and touched my life in an amazing way – how a conversation with Lori Quarnstrom sent me on a leadership mission to South Africa.  Lori and I met during a training course in Philadelphia a few years back.  In a moment between class, as we laboured for learning, shared and connected she encouraged me to pursue this global leadership opportunity, advice I followed which turned out to be a tremendous success.  Lori showed that when you show empathy you open the Pandora’s box of potential to pay goodwill forward.  I firmly believe that there is meaning in every encounter, so in all your discovery, act with curiosity, wonder and questioning.

As we look to a 2021, which is shaping up to be a more interconnected world of personal, social and business, why not harness the learning skill of empathy that transforms all these life dimensions.  Start by assessing your capacity to be empathetic. A cool technique to do this is the Johari window – a unique way to help you better understand your relationship with yourself and others. 

Empathy is a growth skill that requires practice and a conscious effort to shift your mindset.  Proficiency aside, we can universally agree that most, if not all of us are experts at trying. No two interactions are the same and hence you can’t necessarily derive a formula to demonstrate empathy.  Here are some suggestions that may spark interest on your end. 

  • At home, make an effort to engage in conversations and really listen. Just being present and available can often yield great results.
  • At work, agree on a way to communicate such as, being consistently curious as to why an employee, a co-worker or a client may act or say the things they do.
  • In your community, decide on a way to engage with a person, a cause or a passion.  No notion is too small. 
  • For you, set aside time for personal development.  Self-discovery and reflection does wonders for the soul.

A sports fanatic, I wrote the first Care Degree article about unleashing potential.  I contend that acting with empathy, being curious and listening is the fuel that drives potential.  If you are a business leader, take ownership to thread vision throughout the organization, communicate effectively and, gain buy-in from others. If you are a community leader, mobilize and bring people together for a common cause.  If you have a general interest in becoming the better you, shift from directing and telling mindset to one of coaching and empathy.  Do this while putting actionable and measurable steps in place,  focus on building relationship and trust in all your encounters. 

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