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Why Is Empathy So Important?

Why Is Empathy So Important?

Empathy – that is, the ability to understand and be aware of, co-experience the feelings and thoughts of other people, is probably one of the most important skills a person may have. And it’s not just for building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships, but to work more effectively and achieve greater success in life in general. It may sound a bit idealistic, but it doesn’t prevent it from being true. So why exactly is empathy so important for us?

1. Humans Are Social Animals

No matter how you look at it, humans exist in communication with each other, and there are very few activities they take part in that don’t include interactions with other human beings in this or that form. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the ability to better understand others and read their feelings and emotions gives an edge to the one who has it. It allows you to perceive others’ motives, treat them the way they want to be treated, mind their needs, understand how others perceive you, and so on.

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2. It Is Good for Business and Career

Whether you are a business owner or an employee, whether you work in sales or IT, empathy can make all the difference in the world for your career prospects. Good business relationships are built on trust, and to build up trust you have to first understand what the other party wants, needs and expects. Empathy makes this a natural process. Thus, whether you want to build healthy cooperation with your colleagues, employees and bosses or try to organize trust-based marketing approach, empathy is going to be of great help.

3. It Lets You Better Understand Non-Verbal Components of Communication

Communication is so much more than what words express. People who are weak at empathy have very hard time reading between the lines of their conversations and understanding that what the other person means, or wants, to communicate to them is something completely different from what they actually say.

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4. It Makes You Be Better at Handling Conflicts

When you subliminally perceive what the other party wants and needs and can understand exactly why they want and need it, reaching a “win-win” solution gets so much easier. You no longer have to blindly grasp for a solution, misreading the other party’s signals and searching for a way out in the wrong place.

5. It Makes It Easier to Convince and Motivate Others

When you are able to see the world from another’s point of view, see their motives, feelings and preconceptions, finding ways to convince others to your point of view and motivating them to do something becomes much easier than when you try to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Different people are motivated by vastly different things, and having empathy means having keys to understanding them on the fly.

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6. It Broadens Your Horizons

If empathy means co-experiencing the world from another person’s point of view, feeling with that person, it naturally follows that if you are strong at empathy, it allows you to perceive the world from multiple viewpoints. When you see the world not only from your own perspective, but from the perspectives of other people as well, it lets you perceive it to a fuller extent, see unexpected and previously unknown parts of it and, in general, live a more fulfilled life.

Empathy, on a very basic level, is what makes us human. Thus it is hardly surprising that achieving higher levels of empathy very often means achieving greater success and fulfillment as human beings – which means that concentrating on training your empathetic ability is a very sound course of action.

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Featured photo credit: Stephen Acuna/flickr.com via flickr.com

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Melissa Burns

Melissa is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. She writes about communication, entrepreneurship and success on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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