“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Empathy is the cornerstone of caring and developing relationships of trust.
Simultaneously, sympathy is categorized by many as mere pity and does not assume the person being sympathized with is either understood or valued.
Conversely, empathy assumes that we understand the viewpoint (or at least attempt to understand) of the person. Taking the time and making an effort to view a situation, idea, or consequence from their perspective and not merely our own.
To make an effort to realize the other person’s point of view (even if contradictory to our own) has merit, and to develop a dialogue assumes both points of view may have value in discussing.
This does not mean you need to agree with people or even hold opinions similar to theirs—quite the opposite. Empathy is the process of realizing we all come to certain situations with different points of reference, moral compasses, realities, and that is okay.
Empathy is about being able to understand someone’s point of view without necessarily agreeing with it.
Why is this so important?
Empathy allows for dialogue. It will enable us to realize our perspective can be expanded or changed, given the right circumstances and references, and this is okay.
None of us are all-knowing, none of us have the cornerstone on what is right and what is wrong, and everyone has information to share that could benefit all of us in the long run.
Taking the time to listen to others, understand their opinion, and value them as human beings is not a sign of weakness, but instead, of enormous strength. To be comfortable enough with your convictions and ideas and self that you are willing to entertain thoughts different from your own without them changing you or your sense of right and wrong.
Being able to listen to others who speak from the point of view you oppose, and taking the time to understand why they think as they do, gives us insights into ourselves and our convictions. It fills in the gaps of why we believe what we believe, and why what we believe is right or wrong is worth fighting for.
It all comes down to valuing people as human beings first and foremost. Realizing there is only one race, the human race, and that even though we all come to the table with different thoughts and opinions, we do what we do because we believe it to be right and just, based upon our own set of convictions.
Again, to empathize you are not obligated to agree with what they believe is right. To empathize, your role is merely to understand and be open to exploring why they believe what they believe.
This leads to fruitful and open dialogue, creation of understanding, and consensus that creates new realities for everyone.
As leaders, and I define leadership as a mindset of vision and inspiration that raises the bar for everyone, we must empathize.
How can we ever attempt to create consensus without empathy?
How can we help to build bridges of understanding and enable the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts?
How can we enable open dialogue between those we lead to allow them to succeed together without empathy?
This is how we build trust. This is how we build better companies, communities, and countries.
Compassion, empathy, understanding, and trust are not new concepts.
They have always been tools of influential leaders who do not lead by fear. The days of carrot and stick management are behind us.
Today, more than ever, we need to develop a new generation of leaders who understand the value of empathy, how to make it part of their DNA, and how to use it as a tool to enable their teams, companies, and communities to thrive.
Empathy is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of real strength!
I challenge everyone who reads this article to try being more empathetic and see how it works for you. To see its effect on those around you and how it enables you to succeed in a multitude of ways you never imagined.
Here is wishing everyone health, safety, and long-term success.
Connect with Ben HERE to discuss how to provide your people with the skills and mindset they need to lead teams effectively into the new normal.