The Power of Empathy

Few consider empathy a potent force. This ability—to experience the world as another person does—is often presented as one of those “nice to have” virtues. You know, one of the behaviors your mom or your pastor touts, but has little relevance to your career because it’s difficult to quantify or score. We don’t go into a meeting and report on the five empathetic encounters we completed this week, and we don’t refer to someone as an awesome empath with a portfolio of emotional wins.

To make matters worse, the opposite of empathy (technically called Alexithymia) has attractive qualities in a business context. People who lack empathetic ability tend to be highly rational, almost robotic in their behaviors; in other words, extremely productive in structured, analytic roles.

But structured analytic roles have the scent of dinosaur about them. As computing power becomes cheap and pervasive, algorithms take over and humans need not apply. Roles more likely to survive are those dependent on abilities that are difficult to computerize—like empathy.

This fact alone should motivate everyone to start developing his or her empathetic skills. But in case you’re still not convinced, consider these other benefits of empathy:

Better intuitive skills – It’s almost like cheating. The more empathetic we become, the more intuitive we seem because we can grasp nuances that others miss. Connections become clearer and we develop a seemingly uncanny ability to predict future actions. 

Stronger social abilities – Empathy is the handshake that becomes a hug. If we sense someone’s insecurity in a situation, we can behave in a way that lessens his or her discomfort. We can enter a room and sense the mood of its inhabitants, almost instantly adjusting our own state to compensate or correct.

More creative potential – Skip the line drawing class and go straight to Empathy 101. When we take on another’s perspective, we can see, feel and think in new ways that add depth and breadth to our creative excursions.

Want to go deeper? Check out the great RSA video: The Power of Outrospection