Empathy: The Hardest Soft Skill You’ll Have to Learn

Empathy is among the most significant of soft skills in the workplace. What is empathy? Often, empathy is incorrectly used as a synonym for sympathy. Though the two words sound similar, their meanings are not. For example, you are sympathetic when you feel sorry that a friend is having a tough time. You are being empathetic when you try to feel what you friend is feeling, perhaps through remembering a time you experienced similar difficulties. In short, empathy is feeling with people and not for people. With the definition of empathy now explained, what else should we know about empathy?

A Critical Ingredient for Team Success

Simon Sinek gives a stirring speech about the importance of understanding empathy in Corporate America. He explains how millennials in the workplace are highlighting a problem that has been brewing for many years in big business. He states that Corporate America was built on certain theories and skills that have become an outdated standard. His solution to begin remedying this situation is empathy. By his logic, understanding your workers on a deeper level allow them to create successful work teams which in turn result in high rates of productivity and efficiency. This is a management trend that is growing in strength and size.

It May Be Easy to Understand, Not Easy to Implement

Empathy is something that makes sense in text. Its definition is not complex and it is easy to understand its contribution to teams. Yet, this does not mean it is easy to implement. It is not easy to be empathetic. Why? Because being empathetic means being vulnerable. As humans, we constantly feel the need to protect ourselves. True connections cannot be created, on any level, without a bit of vulnerability and empathy.

Leaders Lead with Empathy

Now empathy takes a turn towards leadership. Why has empathy been cited many times as a hallmark characteristic of a leader? According to John Maxwell, people want to know how much you care for them before they want to know how smart you are. This sounds logical. Who really wants to devote time to a person/project/job where they feel they do not matter? Tying this back to vulnerability, as a leader, being vulnerable sounds like everything you do not want to be. But studies have shown that vulnerability only adds to your repertoire as a leader.

You Are Not “The Fixer”

Being empathic does not mean you always have a solution or always identify the “silver lining.” This is going against empathy. You are not a fixer, and unless someone expressly asks for a solution, they want an actively listening ear. This is the most important, and the most overlooked, thing to know about empathy.

If you aspire to be a leader, being able to connect and grow your network can only help you throughout your life. The work environment places high importance on soft skills, and managing relationships is a high ranking soft skill. Just as with any technical skill, both soft skills and empathy need to be practiced daily. Practice feeling with your employees, peers and superiors. Start small – if a colleague has a small cold or a bad day, be empathetic. The recipient of your empathy will remember it and that is how trust is built…that is how human capital is built…that is how success begins!

Ashley Morales is a student at Rutgers University and a Marketing Intern with C2G Partners.