Last month, I spent some time with a client and her fiancé, who is very big in the world of the mind and mental improvement. Upon being introduced, he posed the following question: “What’s your superpower?” Without missing a beat, I said, “Empathy.”
Normally, I get tongue-tied with questions like this. Maybe it’s because of the framing, but this felt very clear.
I started thinking about why empathy could be considered a superpower or, in my own mind, a strength, and began to flesh it out. What I realized is that without this ability, we are too often left in the dust when pursuing our interests and building our businesses and careers.
For a long time, I thought of empathy as a quality whereby someone was able to put him or herself into another’s shoes and imagine what they might be feeling. Usually applied in cases of painful feelings, the empathizer would subsequently offer a solution that could work. The problem was the solution was something that would work for the offerer, NOT the “offeree.”
Soon, I realized the trick with empathy was not offering a solution that would work for you, but what might work for the person in need of your support. This is a lot more difficult to accomplish because it takes a lot more thought and a significantly bigger investment of time and emotion. Done right, however, the payoff can be enormous.
When you offer a solution that doesn’t fit the person who needs to embrace it, the problem doesn’t get fixed. It festers and worse, it gets repeated, which ultimately takes up more time and energy than if it had been done correctly in the first place. If time is money, then making it work the first time by investing more completely, there is big upside potential:
1. Work gets done.
2. People are more cheerful. thus able to pay it forward and help others.
3. Not as much complaining and whining, and related negativity.
There are three things to keep in mind when deploying your empathy:
1. Some people (like me) are actually less empathetic when facing people with problems they’ve dealt with. This seems counterintuitive, but it goes right back to being about them, not you. So watch that.
2. There are people who’ll take advantage. Being empathetic doesn’t mean being a doormat. Watch that, too.
3. Empathy should not be reserved for difficult or painful things. It should be equally deployed for joyful things, too.
I would love to know your empathy stories.