Years ago Steven Covey in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, got the business community thinking about the skill of empathy when he introduced the fifth Habit: Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood. Then several years later Daniel Goleman, in his work on Emotional Intelligence, named empathy, the ability to read the feeling of others, as one of the five components of Emotional Intelligence.
Well Neuroscience now has something to say about the brain and empathy that we thought you’d want to know. In the article, Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People, Roman Krznaric states that neuroscientists in the last decade have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, like many aspects of our brain, has the capacity to grow and change throughout our lifetime. This means that empathy is a trainable skill! All human beings are wired to be social creatures and “primed” for empathy but not all of us have been taught to develop or cultivate this skill in our lives. Krznaric believes empathy, to become a habit “has to be cultivated and practiced in our daily lives.” In his research he finds that highly empathic people:
- Have an insatiable curiosity about people.
- Challenge their own prejudices and search for what they share with people rather than what divides them.
- 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.”
- Master the art of “radical listening” coined by Marshall Rosenberg in his work with Non-Violent Communication. Radical listening involves listening within (and being aware of our own vulnerabilities: feelings, reactions, responses) and, at the same time being fully present to the “unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.”
- Create social change one interaction at a time. When one person feels heard and received, she, often, in turn, listens and is receptive to another and the ripple effect of this can be transformational.
- Are non-discriminate in who they empathize with. Everyone is worthy of empathy!
Krznaric states that he believes that “the 21st Century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution …. a radical revolution in human relationships!”
Bill Drayton, the “father of social entrepreneurship” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key to business survival skills because it underpins successful teamwork, leadership, sales and so much more.
We encourage you to take some time to reflect on the following questions this week:
- How would you rate your ability to have empathy for others?
- How often are you able to engage in “radical listening”?
- Who in your company needs to be touched by “empathy” today? This week?
- How can you encourage the development of empathy amongst your employees? In yourself?
Join us in building a more empathetic workplace … we all will reap the benefits of this endeavor!