An essential ingredient to leadership and excellent performance in today’s world is EMPATHY.  In our “selfie” and technology-obsessed culture, many children have fewer opportunities to learn and develop empathy.  Empathy is defined as “the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” 

 

Research offers abundant reasons why we all, adults and children, should consistently practice it.  Empathy has communal effects that include the following:1-7

  • Helping others in need,
  • Encouraging more people to be altruistic,
  • Reducing prejudice and racism,
  • Boosting relationship satisfaction,
  • Lowering bullying and school suspension,
  • Improving patient satisfaction (doctors who are high in empathy support this result)
  • Increasing employee happiness and health, etc.

 

In contrast, low levels of empathy relate to lower levels of academic performance and less resilience.  Empathy is a positive, broadening emotion that tends to relate to prosocial behaviors and actions like collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving.

 

Below are a few exercises to increase empathy. Try them out individually and/or work at them with trusted friends, family, or colleagues.  

 

1.     THINK and be KIND2

So much of how we think about others relates to how we talk in person, text, and post about each other.  We all can benefit from reviewing whether our words meet the KIND or THINK standards.

 

Before we speak online or off, we would be wise to consider whether or not our words meet the following criteria.  If not, we should be cautious about saying, texting, or posting them.  

 

Is it Kind?

Is it Inspirational?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Definite?

 

Or the following…

 

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Important?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

 

It might be helpful to post these KIND or THINK questions near the home computer.

 

 2.     Increase Your “Feeling” Word Vocabulary2

 

Adults and children can be served well by expanding their use of emotion words like those listed below.  

 

Agreeable, Angry, Annoyed, Anxious, Apprehensive, Awful, Betrayed, Bored, Brave, Calm, Capable, Caring, Cheerful, Comfortable, Confident, Confused, Content, Cooperative, Creative, Cruel, Curious, Depressed, Disappointed, Disgusted, Distracted, Ecstatic, Embarrassed, Enjoying, Enraged, Excited, Fantastic, Generous, Gentle, Gloomy, Guilty, Happy, Hurt, Ignored, Impatient, Insecure, Interested, Jealous, Joyful, Lonely, Loving, Overwhelmed, Panicked, Peaceful, Pensive, Pleasant, Proud, Relaxed, Relieved, Sad, Safe, Satisfied, Scared, Sensitive, Serious, Shy, Stressed, Tense, Thrilled, Troubled, Unafraid, Uncomfortable, Worried

 

You might keep a copy of these or other lists of feeling words at your kitchen table.  You can mix up the dinner conversation by asking each person to share one emotion they experienced today, and the situation that provoked the feeling. This exercise can provide new insight into what each family member is currently experiencing.

 

3.      Shared Identity1

 

Think about a person who seems to be very different from you.  Take out a piece of paper and list at least 5-10 things that you do have in common. Do you feel any differently about this person as you take the time to recognize your similarities?  

  

As with any strength taken to an extreme, we run the risk of an “empathy trap” when we become hyper-focused on feeling what others feel, and we neglect our own emotions and needs.  Some people exploit those with this overly developed empathy ability.  Caregivers and doctors are at risk of feeling emotionally drained by empathy in the absence of self-care.  However, in most normal circumstances, most of us can improve our ability to take another’s perspective, to actively listen, and to increase our kindness and compassion toward ourselves and others.  Increase your empathy, and enjoy its many rewards!

 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

 

Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.

~Anonymous

 

References

1.  What is empathy? Why practice it?  How do I cultivate it?

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition#what-is

2. Borba, M. (2016).  Unselfie:  Why empathetic kids succeed in our all-about-me world.  New York:  Touchstone.

https://www.amazon.com/UnSelfie-Empathetic-Succeed-All-About-Me-World/dp/1501110071

 3.  Flynn, M.  (2016). Teachers can reduce suspensions by practicing empathy.  Greater Good Magazine.  

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/teachers_can_reduce_suspensions_by_practicing_empathy

 4. Gordon, M.  (2011).  The wisdom of babies.  Greater Good Magazine.

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/wisdom_of_babies

 5.  McGreevey, S. (May 7, 2012).  Brief training program improves resident physicians’ empathy with patients.  

https://www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=1461

 6. Nook, E. C., Ong, D. C., Morelli, S. A., Mitchell, J. P., and Zaki, J.  (2016). Prosocial conformity:  prosocial norms generalize across behavior and empathy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42 (8),1045-1062.

http://jasonmitchell.fas.harvard.edu/Papers/Nook_prosocialconformity_2016.pdf

 7.  Scotta, B. A., et al., (November 2010).  A daily investigation of the role of manager empathy on employee well-being.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(2), 127-140.

 

 

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