Business and management studies teach loads of stuff: finance, strategy, marketing and more. But it’s rare for a syllabus to include instruction on soft skills. People need to be able to connect and relate to others well for a business venture to thrive. Empathy is the force that moves businesses forward.
There are specific character traits that are inherent to high-fliers. No matter what their particular areas of expertise – they generally possess intelligence, vision, integrity and determination. These qualities help these successful individuals cope with the various challenges that life presents, whether personal or professional.
That’s the classic definition of what you need to succeed.
More recently, the synergistic effect of cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence has been steadily gaining recognition. Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is a term coined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer back in 1990 and is described as:
Emotional intelligence is the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).
In the decade that followed, Daniel Goleman popularized the idea by presenting a model1 that emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence. Goleman argued that non-cognitive skills are critical for workplace success. In a Harvard Business Review article in 1998 he said:
The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.
And it was the dawn of a new era.
The element of empathy
One of the EI components that Goleman emphasizes in Empathy. A formal definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Basically, it means being able to see things from someone else’s perspective or being able to put yourself into the other person’s shoes. True empathy is being able to feel what someone else is feeling and to respect that feeling, regardless of our own thoughts and experiences around it.
Funny enough, the word empathy still makes some people squirm, being a sort of touchy-feely concept. But it’s not as overly demonstrative as some might think. In fact, it’s a rather basic ability – one that can be learned and improved.
Empathy and relationships
Empathy is key to keeping relationships running smoothly. In his book Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio proved that empathy is a core component in effective relationship. In the preface to the 2005 edition, he wrote:
“Today this idea [that emotion assists the reasoning process] does not cause any raised eyebrows. However, while this idea may not raise any eyebrows today among neuroscientists, I believe it’s still a surprise to the general public. We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray. When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment. And the most logical and intelligent figures in popular culture are those who exert the greatest control over their emotions–or who seem to feel no emotions at all.”
Empathy allows us to discern the thoughts and feelings of others. With empathy we can better understand how or why people are reacting to situations. Empathy develops our people acumen and it shapes our decisions.
So, don’t skip or skimp on this skill.
Empathy and the bottom line
The link between empathy and business results cannot be ignored. From building meaningful business relationships, to building trust, to increased employee satisfaction. From onboarding new customers through supporting them, while creating great customer experiences. Empathy is your pixie dust.
Empathy might not come naturally to some people. There is genuine value when organizations teach and instill empathy in the workplace. The capacity for empathy in the human moment at work is essential, and it facilitates interaction and communication for remote workers.
The power of empathy is particularly valuable in sectors where there are many human moments but they are plagued by limitations on time and money, for example, healthcare, public services, and education. It’s not enough to only have empathetic teachers. Schools are encouraged to add empathy learning to their curricula, and it’s never too early (or too late) to start.
Even small organizations benefit from developing an empathetic orientation (perhaps even more so because of the wider variety of business interactions!).
So get your empathy on. And embrace the emotion!
Wombat cares. So we are making it easy for you to gain lots of empathy insight in one marvelous morning. Join us at EmCon to hear from industry leaders on how empathy can benefit you and your business. Register today!