How Can We Develop Our Empathetic Abilities?
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Empathy Starts with Curiosity. There is a direct line that connects curiosity, humility, and empathy. Curiosity, by its nature, comes from a willingness to accept that you lack knowledge or understanding. And while many business leaders are willing to say this, they’re not as inclined to truly believe it. This is especially true with leaders who fear they will lose their employees’ respect if they don’t come across as omniscient. Hence, their leadership style is focused on being the one who has the answers (and no questions), gives rigid direction (as opposed to collaborating on a path), and holds people accountable to results (without the need to know why they weren’t achieved). These traits are not the marks of a humble leader, but a fearful one. And the employees who appear to be following their leader are likely doing so out of fear. Ironically, the leader’s fear of looking like a failure leads to the employee’s fear of losing their job if they don’t yield to their boss’s controlling leadership style.
Those who lead out of fear leave no room for asking, “How are you feeling?” That’s because asking such questions evokes a self-reflection that forces the leader to come to grips with their own insecurities. When insecure leaders ask someone about their feelings, their pride forces them to reckon with their own. They think of themselves first. As a result, in their mind, it’s best to leave discussions about feelings to someone else. In the prideful leader’s world, no good can come from talking about emotions. It only confuses their own.
Curiosity overcomes the unwillingness to engage with others at the emotional level. If humility is a character trait, curiosity is its expression. Those who are curious embrace the fact that they don’t know nor understand things, and naturally want to learn more about them. This is especially true about the human beings they encounter. Their curiosity makes them want to know what people think and how they feel. Part of their desire is based upon wanting to understand more about their own thoughts and feelings. Curiosity starts the empathetic process. In a quest to know more about themselves, they seek a mirror in other people. By attempting to understand other people’s perspectives, they begin to shape their own. When seeking to touch on the feelings of another, they begin to experience those feelings as their own. That’s the beginning of empathy.