Empathy: Three Skills That Are Often Overlooked

Posted on 7th March 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to cite a recent article in ‘Business Insider’ that makes some perceptive points about building empathy. The article – ‘15 Skills That Are Hard to Learn But Will Pay Off Forever’ – is a helpful reminder of the subtlety of building empathy in the workplace.

Tips for Workplace Wisdom

Author Rachel Gillett lists the ‘usual suspects’ such as empathy itself, the importance of listening, the need to manage time effectively, and several tips for staying positive and healthy, both physically and emotionally. But I would like to focus on several additional points that Gillett makes, three skills we don’t hear as much about which can build a more empathic environment. These are asking for help, keeping quiet, and staying present.

Ask For Help
I highlight this because the willingness to ask for help often implies a healthy mix of wisdom and humility: the wisdom to know when I am in over my head, and the humility to actually ask. No one knows everything and everyone needs help eventually: it is the human condition. But with the human ego this can be tricky. I am reminded of the ten years I spent collaborating with a prestigious management-consulting firm to prepare high-potential leaders for their new roles. One of the biggest challenges we faced with these individuals – all of whom had been recruited for their academic brilliance – was getting them to admit that they didn’t know all the answers. When they finally acknowledged that they might not know everything, it was a genuine relief and allowed them to connect with their collaborators in a more realistic and empathic way.

Keeping Quiet
Many of us tend to give a lot of thought to what we are going to say: in conversations, in meetings and presentations, even in conflict situations. The irony is that only about 10 percent of our communication is verbal: very often our words are not the most important factor. Having the wisdom and restraint to keep quiet – particularly in moments of stress – is a mark of emotional maturity and can contribute to building empathy in the workplace because of the personal consideration shown and often because of what we didn’t say. Silence can reduce tension and can also be a good risk-management tool.

Staying Present
We live in a digital age: technology-related distractions are everywhere and multi-tasking is a constant temptation at work. Yet focusing our attention on one thing at a time – be it a task to perform or a person to interact with – is one of the most effective ways to be productive and authentic. And being truly present is also fundamental to good listening. So I encourage you to sharpen these tools in your empathy toolbox: asking for help, knowing when to keep quiet, and being present.

Good luck, and until next time…