I listen to several podcasts in my commute up and down I-35 each day. In a recent podcast by Matt Chandler, he brought up the subject of empathy in a way that really struck a note with me. As we continue on our cultural journey here at UNTHSC, empathy is a skill that connects to each of Our Values on a very human level. He stated that empathy requires sacrifice. You have to sacrifice your own thoughts and feelings to truly empathize with someone. That is the only way you can put yourself in their shoes- by setting aside what is yours to take on someone else’s. This is tied to serving others before ourselves, respect for someone else’s point of view or circumstances, and integrity, by doing what is right for that individual, not just the easy thing of saying “I am sorry” and moving on with your day. He also discussed how you must have humility to demonstrate empathy. Humility is a dimension of leader character that we have discussed in our Leadership 125 program. According to researchers Seijits, Gandz, Crossan, and Reno, humility is composed of the following elements: self-aware, modest, reflective, continuous learner, respectful, grateful, and vulnerable. When demonstrating humility, you are better able to empathize because you are learning about that individual, seeking to understand their perspective, and being vulnerable in what may be a difficult situation.
Daniel Pink defines empathy as “the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling” (Pink, 2006, p. 159). My sister, a special education teacher, is an excellent empathizer. It is simply part of who she is. She truly seeks to understand the circumstances, thoughts, and feelings of the students and parents she serves, and she is better able to lead them because of her innate ability to connect with the experiences of others. For individuals like me, who weren’t born natural empathizers, empathy is a skill we can develop. In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, Daniel Pink suggests the following work activities to build empathy:
1. Consider what each person in your office experiences on a daily basis
Have each member of your team write their name on a piece of paper and then have the other team members write what they think are the highlights of that person’s day, the worst parts of that person’s day, that individual’s frustrations, and what they consider rewards.
How does Mary like to be rewarded? What is our boss’ biggest frustration? What is the highlight of Adrian’s day? What really brings Rachel down?
2. Understand one another’s stories
How did each person in your office end up working at UNTHSC? What brought you all together? What are the common themes for everyone in your department?
Did you know that we have multiple volunteer opportunities here at UNTHSC? Do you enjoy gardening and want to get involved in the community garden? What about volunteering at the Cowtown Marathon? Or, would you like to get involved on one of our Values Initiative Teams?
– Jessie Johnson
Empathy also ties into the International Coach Federation (ICF) core competencies. Using empathy helps the coach to establish a trusting relationship (#3) as well as activates active listening (#5) as you seek to understand on a deeper level.
Seijits, Gandz, Crossan, and Reno (2015). Character matters: Character dimensions’ impact on leader performance and outcomes. Organizational Dynamics, 44(1). 65-74. doi: 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2014.11.008.
International Coach Federation. (N.D.). Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://coachfederation.org/credential/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=2206
Pink, D.H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Podcast by Matt Chandler