Empathy……a lost skill.

by Andrea Palm-Porter


Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) has more impact on one’s success in life compared to IQ. Developing your EQ is one of the most important skills to have as a human being and successful leader. To top this off, 72 percent of business leaders are stating the need for more empathy in their organization for sustainable business success in today’s workplace. To that end, we need more empathy and people willing to be vulnerable in our organizations, with each other, and on our planet.

At our February RFL Academy session, the topic was Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in Action. The RFL Academy 2020 increased their self awareness by learning about themselves through taking an EQ Assessment, having a one-hour coaching call about their results and then spending the day putting those concepts into action. Over the years, I’ve completed over 500+ EQ Assessments and coaching calls and have noticed a decline in individual’s empathy scores. After further research, I’m not surprise……

With the newer research I’ve found, it does validates this theory about the decline of empathy based on how we connect and interact with each other today vs even a year ago. We have to look at our habits and patterns related to how we engage with technology, our accelerated environments, our political arena, and what is being modeled in today’s world.

First, let’s define empathy and sympathy:

  • Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  • Sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.

We have to remember that empathy can be learned, practiced and modeled. Psychiatrist and researcher, Helen Riess, writes, “Empathy involves an ability to perceive others’ feelings (and to recognize our own emotions), to imagine why someone might be feeling a certain way, and to have concern for their welfare. “

In the EQ coaching I do when someone identifies that they want to develop their empathy, I ask them these questions for self-discovery.

  1. How do you make a connection with someone else?
  2. Give me an example of a time you showed empathy to someone else and what did you say?
  3. What efforts do you put into maintaining a relationship or developing a new one?
  4. And how do you know you have a mutually satisfying relationship?

Let’s touch on one of the concepts that is affecting empathy in today’s world: technology and our habits around how we utilize it for connections and interactions.

The Global Risks Report states “that while online connections can be empathetic, research suggests that the degree of empathy is six times weaker than for real-world interactions.”

This only proves that we need to practice having more face-to-face communication vs online emails, social media posting, video calls, or text messages. We have to be able to recognizing what different behavior styles need and how to show empathy to them. Empathy is not a one size fits all as we all have different ways of communicating. And we have to remember, we are human beings doing the best we can, with what we have and know, in any given moment. We can practice having more grace and space for each other.

Empathy, like other EQ categories, can be develop over time through awareness and practice. Here are two things that will help you practice and model empathy with others in your life:

  1. Listen from a place of nothing. You may have heard this before in our programs. It’s a way to actively listen to someone without any biases, without pre-conceived notions of what the person is saying or going to say, without thinking about something or someone else while in a conversation, or without judgement. It is holding a safe and loving space to hear what the other is sharing with you so that you have a sense of what they are experiencing – from their experience – not your own. This is an opportunity to practice openness and curiosity.
  2. Identify and acknowledge what emotions they are feeling. After someone has shared their situation that calls for empathy, it’s now your opportunity to practice and show empathy. Here is where you acknowledge what they may be feeling. For example: “I feel with you, it sounds like you are XXXX (emotion word goes here), and I’m here for you.” Think of how you can respond that would create an understanding, that they were heard and you created an interaction and a feeling of increased connection.

As Dr. Brené Brown said “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one.” Dr. Brown has a short video on empathy if you are interested in learning more.

Final thought: As a leader do you choose empathy? And what actions will you take or do to be more empathetic?

If you are interested in training for your staff or developing your Emotional Intelligence, Andrea Palm-Porter, RFL Executive Director, is an EQ-i and EQ 360 Certified Practitioner and Trainer. For more information – you can contact her by email: andrea@rfleadership.org.

February, 19, 2020