It’s interesting how often presidential 1-liners become cultural 1-liners. Who comes to mind when you hear “I feel your pain”? Depending on your age and interests in 1992, you might say Bill Clinton. On the other hand, you may recall someone saying these words to you who was either: a. well intentioned or b. being sarcastic. If you’ve had the good fortune of being with someone highly skilled in social-awareness, in particular empathy, then you’ve probably heard and sincerely felt that message loud and clear. Without a word being said.
Why empathy is important
Out of the three social awareness competencies, empathy is the secret formula for connecting with others….resonance, if you would. Someone who is highly skilled in empathy has the ability to pick-up on the emotions of another person and then mirror and identify with where they are at emotionally. Understanding empathy also helps you distinguish between it and sympathy so you can keep from acting in an unbecoming way.
Usually only cognitive empathy is considered when empathy is discussed. But if you want to fully understand how another person experiences the world then you need to know about all three types:
- Cognitive Empathy- The “Knowing” of empathy
- Emotional Empathy- the “Feeling” of empathy
- Empathetic Concern- the “Doing” of empathy
Cognitive empathy refers to being able to sense how another person thinks. It is a natural curiosity about other people’s reality that can help us see things through their eyes and put things in their terms so we can better communicate with them. Leaders with a high level of cognitive empathy get better levels of performance from those they lead and are able to to pick up the norms and ground rules of other cultures more quickly.
Emotional empathy refers to how we feel and experience the other person’s emotions. In other words, our feelings resonate. To do this effectively, we have to intentionally tune in to others’ feelings as well as pay attention to their facial, vocal, and other nonverbal signs in an ongoing, real-time basis.
Empathic concern refers to a sensitivity to the other person’s needs and a readiness to help if needed. Other people pick-up on this and feel cared for and supported. It also conveys a trust that frees them to be curious, explore and take risks because they feel they are in a safe environment.
How do I grow my empathy?
First, you need to get a grip on where your at. The reality is that no matter how empathy-skilled we think we are, there is always room for improvement. The good news is that being attuned to informal feedback, intentionally seeking formal feedback, coaching and activities like the Empathy Exercise can help you improve.
Why empathy is the secret
Empathy, along with the other competencies of social-awareness, is the lynch-pin of your personal ability to manage relationships with others. As leader, it’s the cornerstone of your most basic, primal task: to prime positive emotions in your followers. Once primed, positive emotions will sustain resonance in your followers that inspires, motivates and empowers them to do great things.
How is your empathy “muscle”? How would you describe the ratio of the 3 types of empathy in your own secret formula for connecting with others? What adjustments need to be made?
Being aware of and managing yourself well along with a high level of social-awareness, especially empathy, will certainly make you a nice person to be around. But unless you are effective with social-management (relationship management), you won’t effectively influence those around you or be an effective leader.
Relationship management is the fourth and final domain of S+EI to consider and is what I am going to discuss next.