Have you ever interacted with someone and realized that they were unable to relate to you? Unable might be too strong of a word…they just didn’t want to do the work to relate.
I was reminded of the importance of empathy last week during a trip back home from Nashville. Weather caused a decent delay in our flight back to Atlanta. Along with my fellow passengers I was frustrated to be stuck waiting for hours.
During the delay I experienced 2 types of airline employees. The first type were very kind people. They listened and related to our situation. They did everything within their power, but they couldn’t fix the delay. There was another type of employee we encountered. The 2nd type did everything within protocol. They kept things moving in the terminal, but no matter what a customers personal situation was – they seemed to keep an emotional distance.
Neither type of employee had the ability to solve our flight delay, yet I found myself a fan of the first type of employee and utterly frustrated with the 2nd type. Why is that? The answer is empathy.
One of the greatest ways to impact those around us is to develop the skill of empathy. Empathy is like a key that will unlock the door of connection between you and the people you serve.
To relate and truly understand someone we have to be able to empathize with them. Empathy is more than just seeing the way someone feels, it is the act of actually sharing in those feelings. It is a transition from “I see you” to “I am with you.”
Empathy is so important in our work with other people. It is a skill we can learn, a muscle we can strengthen. Here are 6 great ways to start developing empathy for those around you:
- Cultivate Curiosity – allow yourself to wonder and think about the experience other people are walking through
- Examine Your Personal Biases – look at the things in your life that tend to be highlighted or muted, and consider why they are that way
- Engage the Heart – relating to others is a work of heart, it requires vulnerability and honesty about your own personal feelings
- Learn to Ask Great Questions – great questions seek to understand something unknown to us, not simply confirm something we already assume
- Picture Yourself in Their Shoes – imagine their situation is your situation and their pressure is your pressure
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone – unknown ideas, emotions and perspective is gained when we experience something different that our normal status quo
The people you serve long to be known. They want people to relate with them. Developing empathy allows us to be relationally flexible. Empathy is a powerful resource for each of us because it allows us to engage and relate with people no matter their situation, background or beliefs.
What will it take for you to develop empathy in your area of influence this week?