Have you recently found yourself pressing the elevator button rapidly, rather than holding the door open for another? Do you truly listen to a team member’s explanation before becoming Judge Judy? Snap impatiently at another rather than calmly provide direction? If so, your emotional intelligence quotient may be dangerously low, and it’s time to up your empathy.
Empathy is at least as important as any of your other qualifications, and to some extent crucial for success in your career.
Here’s how to improve:
1. Dial in. To develop empathy, you must be a good listener and observer. If something is confusing, a good listener asks for an explanation, demonstrating that she is not just listening, but really hearing and understanding. Watch others and notice through their body language what they aren’t saying.
2. It’s not always about you. Beyond listening and observing, a person with empathy tries to understand how another sees a situation. Sure, you may want to choke a colleague who obsesses endlessly about every detail for an upcoming event. Instead, use your imagination to try to comprehend the pressures and expectations she might be facing.
3. Have a flashback. Once you have some understanding of another’s viewpoint or emotions about a situation, try to recall instances from your own experience when you had similar feelings. For example, remember how overwhelmed and anxious you felt when you had a tight deadline on a big project? Isn’t it understandable that your co-worker or boss is uptight if they are getting pressure to perform or complete an assignment? Or, how about the feelings you felt the first time you tackled a new task? As we gain skills and experience, it’s too easy to forget the learning curve required to accomplish a task. Having a flashback is one of the fastest ways to instant empathy.
Best of all, empathy paves the way to better communication and cooperation between people, which can lead to compassion.