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Having empathy for others can be vital at work, helping to build good workplace relationships and helping to manage difficult conversations with colleagues. However, recent research now shows that empathy doesn’t just benefit others but can also improve our own self-development.
Often referred to as a ‘soft skill’,empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the thoughts (cognitive empathy) and feelings (emotional empathy) of another person and the ability to view a situation from their perspective, rather than your own.
Although some people may have amore developed ability to empathise than others, everyone has the capacity for empathy and research has shown that even children as young as two years old demonstrate a basic understanding that others may have a different viewpoint to themselves.
Obviously, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes has huge benefits for relationship building,cooperation and decision-making. Teams tend to work better when team members can empathise with each other, allowing everyone to have a voice and share ideas, but how does being empathetic also help you to develop as an individual?
According to Tracy Brower (PhD), sociologist and author of ‘The Secret to Happiness at Work’, empathy has important benefits for the empathiser including:
Our own identity. Dr. Brower points out that we generally understand ourselves through the people we spend time with, often deriving our sense of self from the types of people with whom we have the closest relationships. In turn, this heightened self-awareness can help us make important decisions in the workplace about the future of our careers and personal development.
Innovation. Again, empathy can aid personal development here by enabling us to extend our own thinking. By understanding someone else’s unfamiliar point of view, it is possible to expand our minds, find new perspectives and see fresh ideas, which all play a key role in the process for successful innovation and ensuring that our thinking doesn’t become stale and predictable.
Influence. Empathy can also be a useful tool when trying to persuade and influence others. Putting yourself in another person’s position and understanding their opinion helps to facilitate discussion. Showing that you appreciate another person’s point of view and that you are actively listening to their ideas is also likely to make them more open to what you have to say in return. Empathy also allows you to use their perspective as a common starting point towards influencing them to your way of thinking.
So, empathy can play a crucial role in personal development as well as benefiting those around you. Perhaps this explains why it is identified as such a key skill in the workplace and one which we should perhaps all be working hard to nurture.
If you are looking to develop in your career or if you are considering a change of direction, contact Careers in Depth today and find out how our team of experienced career coaches can assist you with finding the path to self-awareness, fulfilment and job satisfaction.
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