“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
Empathy is a powerful skill. It enables one to understand other’s dilemma, pain and predicament. We all wish for a workplace where the employees are empathetic and does not criticize or judge our actions. The irony, however, is even though we wish for others to be always understanding, we often fail to empathize with others. And thus we can say that empathy is not always natural. It is an art that needs to be cultivated. An art that needs to be practiced, to be mastered. As humans, we are biased and sometimes have a rigid belief system. We want people to follow the path we choose; we want others to believe in the same principles which are sacred to us. Empathy on the other hand embraces diversity, it embraces difference of opinion, it respects contextual difference. It teaches us to be humble.
Empathy is a powerful skill that demands introspection. It requires us to be true to ourselves first. It demands us to respect and accept all our emotions, whether good or bad, for that makes us truly human. A person can not be empathetic to others without being empathetic to oneself. Only when a leader can embrace the shortcomings of her own, then she can resonate with the mistakes of others. Only when a leader is capable of forgiving herself then she can forgive others.
To be empathetic to others is also a strong reminder that not all of us are born with the same privileges. For example, students of CBSE are not naturally better in English but rather born with a set of economic and cultural privileges that makes it easier for them to learn a foreign language faster than the students of state board. In such cases it’s a teacher’s job to be empathetic to all, to be patient with all the students and not shun certain because they may not be very fluent with words. Similarly in an organization, some people are naturally shy and reserved. These people may initially find it struggling to fit in a large team but if the leader is empathetic enough to understand their nature, she can bring out the best in them.
Empathy is not a skill favourable in leaders alone. Anyone who’s empathetic at work finds it easier to accommodate different workstyles and achieve common goals with minimal conflict. At the workplace, the importance of empathy deals with our ability to navigate conflict. For instance, if a person doesn’t get along with her peers at work, this can mean that there’s unresolved conflict. Empathy can play the role of a mediator or pacifier in this scenario- it enables us to take the time to understand the root cause of the problem to reach a solution that works both ways. This is a desirable skill in each of the team member. And thus we all should strive to cultivate empathy in ourselves.
Being empathetic also enables us to have a better and peaceful mental health. When we are more accommodating of others needs, we hold less grudges against others. It helps us in removing bitterness and negativity from our lives. Not only this but it also enables us in earning respect from others. As they say, “You reap what you sow.” When we try to be kind and empathetic towards others, we can hope the same from people. Further as we discussed, empathy requires us to be kind to ourselves first. This also improves our mental health as instead of criticising and underestimating our role we are able to focus on the good we bring to the team. We learn to accept ourselves. We are then able to overcome the negative voice in our head which is responsible for our constantly low self-esteem and dropping confidence, traits that can negatively affect our growth.
At last, it can be concluded that empathy though difficult to master is the best social skill that not only makes us our own best friend but also establishes us as a desirable team member.