Not to be confused with sympathy, empathy—as defined by Psychology Today—is "the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective." Said another way, it's the ability to relate with someone else through their feelings rather than by their words or actions. Simply put, you feel like they do.
But when empathy isn't a part of your communication equation, those that you interact with on a daily basis can start to shut down or feel isolated. And in the workplace, teamwork can quickly turn into "me-work". Ultimately, not employing empathy in your communications can cause your personal and professional relationships to suffer greatly.
Here are three reasons why empathy is important to your communications:
1) It Develops Trust.
Showing someone you care is as important, if not more important, than telling someone you do. This demonstration is paramount to understanding another person because it establishes trust in communication. You can do this by focusing on active listening rather than speaking. Be mindful of the present moment and pay close attention to the speaker's words and nonverbal cues. This will help make those around you feel more comfortable sharing with you. And as an added benefit, you'll inevitably start to open up more, too.
2) It Creates Learning Moments.
Instead of creating distance and promoting passive-aggressive behavior, empathy turns every misunderstanding into a learning opportunity. There's no better feeling than truly being heard—except perhaps that light-bulb "aha! moment"—and empathy can bring about both. The trust that's established between you and the other person fosters open and honest conversations that can break down barriers to communication and correct any negative impressions or feelings. Once you start to empathize with others, you deeply understand where they're coming from. And by investing in the emotions of others, you become a source of advice, support and guidance for others—both personally and professionally.
3) It Strengthens the Team.
Hands down, empathy emphasizes the notion of the team. It fosters teamwork as a result of developing trust and creating a learning environment for all involved. Once you establish confidence, and a willingness to adopt other perspectives, then the team is naturally strengthened. New information about what others think and feel creates more meaningful, helpful, and closer relationships. And when a culture of trust and teamwork is established into any type of group, progress and productivity flourish.
It comes down to this: Our personal and professional relationships benefit from communicating with care and empathy by building trust, fostering learning opportunities, and strengthening the team. Much like caring for a plant, communication takes time and work, but in the end, you always get what you give.
Interested in learning more about how you interact with others? Take Foresight's FREE Personality Quiz used by participants in the Management Development Program (MDP). Click the link below to start the process of self-discovery, now!