Anyone can learn to be more empathetic, says Dr. Craig Dowden, author and organizational psychologist. “The number one thing is to ask more questions, be curious and generally be a conversational Sherlock Holmes,” he says. “Just because you understand someone else’s reality doesn’t mean you have to agree with said reality.”
Beyond that, Dowden recommends meeting in person as opposed to relying on technology. Often face-to-face interactions can provide more information like tone of voice and body language, which can benefit understanding.
“The other thing is to make sure you’re well-rested. There’s lots of evidence [indicating] that when we are tired or under stress, we tend to be less empathetic because we’re much more self-focused.”
One daring activity Dowden suggests is to look through someone’s bag or purse (with permission). The point of peeking at another’s belongings is that it can challenge initial assumptions and make you reconsider them.
Dowden also offers suggestions for how to get metrics on the effects of any empathy initiatives your organization runs. Options include the Emotional Quotient Inventory that has empathy as one of its subcomponents, and the more expansive 360-degree assessment tools.
Being empathetic “has always been critical,” he says. “Today it’s more important than ever as technology tends to dampen our empathy muscles rather than enhance them … I would say it’s an essential life skill.”
Walking a Mile in Someone’s Shoes
Leaders have more to do than ensure productivity. They must show empathy towards employees to be truly effective.