Train Your Empathy Muscle

In the gym, consistent training is the best way to build muscle. But what about an invisible muscle – in this case, the “empathy muscle?” Everyone has one, but how can you build yours?

As it turns out, the answer is much the same – through training, practice and repetition.

On the NextGen Online Training, How to Practice Empathy at Work, Frieda K. Edgette, MSc, CPCC, PCC, Founder & Principal of Novos Consulting, shared tips on how to make empathy a focus of your professional life.

To start with, Edgette identified three types of empathy:

  • Cognitive Empathy, which is understanding another’s perspective
  • Emotional Empathy, which is feeling and sharing another’s emotion
  • Compassionate Empathy, which is understanding others experiences and being moved to take action

Expressed individually, each type has the potential to lead to various problems, from burnout to manipulation. But when they’re combined to form a complete sense of empathy, they are extremely powerful.

Even with an understanding of empathy in a theoretical sense, it can be hard to know where or how to start improving one’s practice of it. Fortunately, Edgette had plenty of advice for those looking to strengthen the empathy muscle.

“One of the biggest ways of building empathy is asking questions and just listening,” she said.

It’s important to be intentional about the types of questions you are asking, and you need to be genuinely interested in the other person’s response – practicing empathy means that you are placing someone else’s perspective at the forefront of your thoughts.

Edgette’s other tips for both fostering and practicing empathy include:

  • Log 3 We’s

Whether you are leading a meeting or simply interacting with a colleague, using “we” can be a powerful step towards empathy. It creates a shared identity, counteracts any preexisting in-group/out-group biases, and promotes understanding, communication and collaboration.

  • Mission Possible

By focusing on what you wish collectively to achieve and starting with a growth mindset, you can help your team improve its problem-solving, creativity and interpersonal relationships.

  • Ask and Actively Listen

As mentioned, listening and understanding are two key pillars of empathy. By listening for verbal and watching for non-verbal cues and maintaining a clear focus on the other person, you can bolster trust and improve the depth of communication.

  • Build Together

Inclusion is a vital part of an empathetic workplace. By using phrases like “yes, and…” or “what would happen if…,” you can include people in the discussion and make sure they know that their perspectives are heard and valued.

  • Say/Think/Feel/Do

By separating your interactions into different categories (say, think, feel and do), you can maintain a focus on what you are trying to accomplish. This will also help you consider how your interaction with a particular person fits into that strategy, and how your interaction will impact them.

With these strategies to put into practice, you will be well on your way to building a strong empathy muscle. Like any muscle, however,  it can take time to achieve the growth you wish to see. But stay with it, and Edgette suggests that within three months, provided you have executed your exercise plan, empathetic responses will come naturally and easily to you.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

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