There are many skills needed to succeed in life. Skills that we acquire through our parents, the time we spend in school, our loving mentors, being inches away from failure, having to submit an assignment at 11:59 PM, and maybe even our favorite YouTubers. There are a variety of ways to acquire important skills. Often time these skills are stressed to be leadership, technology literacy, and problem-solving just to name a few. Although these skills are important they don’t involve the two primary skills in the emotional intelligence category. Empathy and kindness.
Empathy, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is, ” The ability to understand and share feelings of another.” In other words, it’s the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. To get down on their level to try and understand them. Empathy is the act of going one step farther than sympathy, an act that refuses to remain an outsider to the situation. It’s vulnerability. A willingness to open up your heart to understanding emotions and not just the situation. A willingness to make a connection.
In the age of toxic “grind” culture and the need to always stay above everyone else, we, as a society have lost touch with our emotions. These emotional skills are needed to succeed beyond superficiality. That is the hard truth. A hard pill to swallow.
As humans, one of our primary needs is the need to make connections. Connections with other people. To feel validated about our self but also because we don’t want to be alone. As Brene Brown says, empathy fuels connection. Connections are currency, future investments if you will. By being a kind and empathetic person you are increasing your ability to connect with other people and that definitely reaps rewards.
For example, it can come back as gaining a new friend, being referred to a new job opportunity, being introduced to someone that helps you gain some clarity in life, or advancing on the corporate ladder.
Empathy is one of the key indicators for whether or not you’re a leader. By choosing to be the alpha of a group you take on more than just a managerial role. Simply put, you have to understand the nuances of the group dynamic. You are a musician. You have choices to make. When will you dance across the keys? When will you reinforce the chords? When will you speed up or slow down? You have to decide, what kind of leader am I? Am I empathetic or not? But if you are still skeptic then the following question is very important to consider.
Can you actually lead a group of people that you don’t connect with on a deeper level- an emotional level?
Two years ago I was at a Leadership Summit at Harvard University where some of my teammates happened to be international students from China. This cultural and geographical difference created an unintentional schism. I realized, that as easy as it was to see these students as other I was missing out on a tremendous opportunity. Albeit uncomfortable, I remembered what if felt like to be the odd one out. A couple of years prior I had moved and remembered how awkward it was to navigate already established social circles and make friends.
Drawing on that uncomfortable experience and emotions associated with it, I took a step forward and befriended them. I helped translate their thoughts to my other friends. I do have to attribute some of that success to the fact that I had been studying Chinese as a second language in school. By tapping into empathy I was able to achieve my grand scheme of breaking down the divide and bridging the gap between us. This became especially useful when we had to research sustainable solutions to a critical world problem. By choosing to empathize with these students my team ended up gaining an international perspective on the global problem that we had chosen. We gained valuable cultural and societal insights. This made us better prepared to present to the remaining groups. We were the only group to provide multiple points of views and evidence for the sustainability of our solution in other countries. Apart from my teams’ success at the summit I also made new friends who I am still in touch with today.
Empathy is also a required skill to be an innovator. The roots of innovation are grounded in empathizing with others. Innovation comes from understanding and relating to people. Without identifying people’s problems how can you innovate solutions? The same goes for business and marketing. The core of marketing is creating profitable customer relationships. Relationships cannot be built without empathy. This is how empathy goes beyond just a people skill. It becomes a valuable skill that translates into career success. If I attempted to describe how empathy translates into success in every field this wouldn’t be a blog post. It would have to be a five-part book series. So, I’ll stop the examples here.
Obviously, I am not an expert, I am just a student. In the simple and humble way I can, I try to share my experiences. Drawing examples of these complex topics in the way I am capable of articulating. But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at the latest research. Chances are it’s pointing in the same direction that I am. It becomes crucial to understand that it’s the small things that end up making the biggest differences. Learning to put in the extra effort to be empathetic rather than sympathetic will lead you to the next level in life. Your relationships with others will be more meaningful and feel more genuine. You will see others naturally gravitating towards you. Why? Because you’ve made this a two-way street.
There is no denying that empathy comes with being vulnerable. You will have to open yourself up to uncomfortable experiences or emotions. But it puts you in touch with your “human” side. Besides empathy is now a building block needed to understand the nuances of the world. If you understand the world, you can make the world understand you. That’s the key to success. Kindness and empathy cost you nothing but could mean the whole world to someone else. Don’t underestimate the power of soft skills. They may seem like pebbles, but the falling of pebbles can cause avalanches.