One day, a young student was taking a walk with a professor who was commonly called the students’ friend because of his kindness. As they went along, they saw a pair of old shoes lying along the path, which they supposed to belong to a poor man who was employed in a field close by, and who had nearly finished his day’s work. The student turned to the professor, saying: “Let us play the man a trick: we will hide his shoes, and conceal ourselves behind those bushes, and wait to see his perplexity when he cannot find them.” “My friend” answered the professor, “we should never amuse ourselves at the expense of the poor. But you are rich and may give yourself a much greater pleasure using the poor man. Put a coin into each shoe, and then we will hide and watch how the discovery affects him.”
The student did so, and they both placed themselves behind the bushes close by. The poor man soon finished his work and came across the field to the path where he had left his coat and shoes. While putting on his coat he slipped his foot into one of his shoes; but feeling something hard, he stooped down to feel what it was, and found the coin. Astonishment and wonder were seen upon his countenance. He gazed upon the coin, turned it around, and looked at it again and again. He then looked around him on all sides, but no person was to be seen. He now put the money into his pocket and proceeded to put on the other shoe, but his surprise was doubled on finding the other coin. His feelings overcame him; he fell upon his knees, looked up to heaven and uttered aloud a fervent thanksgiving in which he spoke of his wife, sick and helpless, and his children without bread whom the timely bounty, from some unknown hand, would save from perishing.
The student stood there deeply affected, and his eyes filled with tears. “Now,” he said to the professor, “are you not much better pleased than if you had played your intended trick?” The Professor replied, “You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget. I feel now the truth of those words, which I never understood before: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
The above story is one that highlights the power of empathy, and how great we can make others feel when we put ourselves in their moccasin without judgment or criticism, bearing in mind that it could have been us. Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s situation. It involves complete identification with another.
Often, we see people pass through pain, trauma, abuse, failure, or other bad times, and whilst we may not have in our hands, the solution to their problem, a little empathy could go a long way in helping them heal and feel better. This is because feeling heard and understood is a human need. If you have ever had one of those days when you just needed someone to talk to, someone to get how you were feeling without misunderstanding or judging you? Well, you were more than likely to need a dose of empathy.
Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us have differing perspectives, and we are so limited when we only see our perspective. If there is anyone secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own. When we do not take a moment to assess another’s feelings, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and even divorce. In the absence of empathy, we could live and work side-by-side with other people, and remain as clueless about their inner selves and feelings.
Although both words are mostly used interchangeably, sympathy and empathy are, in fact, different. You can be sympathetic to someone’s situation while being completely clueless about his feelings and thoughts. Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy involves feeling with them.
In the workplace, empathy can show deep respect for co-workers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership belt of a well-liked and respected executive. As leaders, our role is simple -deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organization. Do not be the CEO who doesn’t care about his employees’ perspectives or feelings, or that colleague that is barely affected if the problem doesn’t concern them.
Empathy can be incorporated in a professional setting by; Establishing rapport with colleagues, showing reasonable concern and support for colleagues in every way possible to help them perform and grow, Practicing active listening without interrupting and reflective listening by paraphrasing, avoiding quick judgment, using appropriate non-verbal cues; and validating the other people’s perspective (this does not mean agreement, but simply that you understand where they are coming from)
Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it. When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems. Ultimately, developing your powers of empathy and imagination makes the whole world open up to you.
“Learn to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is the quality of character that can change the world” –Barack Obama.