In Part 1 of our series on the 6 Habits of Highly Empathic People, we left you with a question to reflect on:
Even though we may be wired for empathy, how can we develop and grow our latent empathic potential?
Interestingly enough, in Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, he initiated the process for the business community to start thinking about the skill of empathy when he introduced the 5th Habit: Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood. Many years later, Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence, stated that empathy is the ability to read the feelings of others, as one of the five components of Emotional Intelligence.
As mentioned in our earlier blog on Habits 1 & 2 - neuroscientists in the last decade have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which means like the many characteristics of our brain, it can grow and change throughout our lifetime. What does this mean? Well, the news is quite remarkable as this means that empathy is a trainable skill! Even though we as humans are capable of empathy, not all of us have been taught to develop and cultivate this skill in our lives.
Krznaric believes empathy, to become a habit, “has to be cultivated and practiced in our daily lives.” Here are the next two habits from his research that highly empathic people share:
So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging — and potentially rewarding — of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”
Many of us utilize our empathic brains everyday without even knowing we are doing so. Here are some ideas on how to exercise empathy: when you notice a new work colleague or a new hire is nervous before giving a presentation, you might try to imagine the anxiety and uncertainty she is feeling, and give her the reassurance she needs. Another possibility, next time you decide to purchase a holiday gift for a friend, think of what would really appeal to him/her and their particular tastes instead of what you personally would wish for as a present.
We can each conduct our own experiments. For example, spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”
There are two traits required for being empathetic.
One is to master the art of listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within — to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.
But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding — an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.
In summary, search for experiential opportunities to practice empathy and employ radical listening skills. This can only happen if we learn how to open up ourselves more. The more we practice, the better we get at it. It is all about just taking the first step with the hope of tapping into and discovering this limitless reservoir of empathy that lies within each of us.
If you would like to learn even more practical steps and habits to bring your empathic circuits to life, then check out our last blog (Part 3) in these series on the 6 Habits of Highly Empathic People. If you missed or need to review Part 1, go here.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. 10th Edition. 1995. Bantam Books.
6 Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric.
How Empathy Works, Melanie Radzicki McManus
5 Everyday Exercises for Building Empathy, Knowledge.insead.edu.
Do you Have the Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People?, Transform Inc.
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Mariam is a freelance writer offering support for businesses & entrepreneurs locally and globally. She brings a significant amount of experience in the corporate marketing industry and as a freelancer in content management, internet research, blogging, article writing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Her mission is to empower business owners to produce content that clearly and authentically communicates with their target audiences, ultimately making lives less stressful as well as allowing for more free time to live more well-balanced and healthier lives.