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Why empathy is your most important business skill

(Business News) Empathy is sorely lacking in today’s fast-paced world, but exercising empathy can set any professional apart and become a tremendous business asset.


Empathy versus sympathy

You already know the best way to treat your clients is to treat them the way you would want to be treated. However, putting yourself in their shoes can be helpful as well, by way of empathy. Empathy means you show concern for another person’s thoughts and feelings; you are able to make an emotional connection with them.

Empathy is not to be confused with sympathy, however, while empathy is primarily concerned with emotions and the ability to understand another’s needs; sympathy, by and large, is about helping someone find the positive side of things. The key to being empathetic is to not judge the other person, just listen and try to recognize what they are feeling.

What separates empathetic people

Empathetic people spend more time listening than talking because they want to understand other people’s motivations, reasons, and difficulties; allowing them to connect on a deeper level and give the other person a sense of being heard and recognized. An employer who is empathetic is able take the time to understand the needs of their employees, enabling them to provide support and understanding in difficult times. And by providing this, employers are building and strengthening trust, alone with a sense of belonging; which can lead to greater collaboration and improved productivity.

For example, if someone is late for work, you might assume they are lazy or irresponsible. But, if you were listening to them, you would know that they are going through a rough time at home and have not been able to sleep well because of all the stress. So, it would be logical to assume that they may have accidentally overslept, not that they have become lackadaisical. An empathetic person would pick up on the nonverbal cues as well. For instance, they have not been as talkative, they seem down, they are not smiling, all things someone who connects on an emotional level realizes.

How to become more empathetic

To hone your skills, you can listen more attentively. Try to focus on being completely present when someone is speaking. Do not worry about phone calls you need to make or email that needs to be checked. Just listen to what the other person is saying. Also, watch other people when you are out running errands. Can you tell who is happy? Who is having a bad day? By practicing “reading” people you will get better at deciphering nonverbal cues allowing you to identify what someone is feeling, even before they speak.

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And perhaps the most effective way to practice empathy is to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about their motivation; their life and their experiences. This can give your perspective on who they are and why they are addressing a problem in a particular manner. This is especially helpful during disagreements. Think about the other’s person’s point of view and perhaps you will be able to find common ground more quickly.

It’s tough, but possible

In today’s competitive marketplace, being empathetic is difficult because it requires putting others ahead of yourself, but empathy fosters listening, understanding, and respect. So, despite any apprehensions about maintaining your competitive edge, the benefits of remaining empathetic towards your coworkers and employees are well worth the effort of honing these skills. Put down your cell phone and listen to what people are saying. Because the person you help with your listening skills, could be yourself.

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

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