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  • Writer's pictureRuss Powell

Working on Building Empathy Skills? Here are Four Best Practices

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Brilliant stuff! I love it! In a recent HBR article, Sherry Turkle, author of "Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age," offers a reminder to #leaders that we "embrace not knowing." (Beware the #knowertrap.)

When practicing #empathy... "you can’t put yourself into someone else’s situation if you have preconceptions about its contours. This isn’t easy. We’re trained to relate to others by expressing what we think we share with them: 'Oh, you lost your job. I know how tough that is; I lost mine as well!' It’s the opposite—the strategy of not knowing—that leaves you open to the truth of things.

"Step back and recognize that you don’t necessarily know what someone else is thinking or feeling. Stop, look, listen, and stay open. It’s not what you know, it’s what you’re willing to learn that provides space for empathy."

If you're working on building empathy-skills, check out her four practices in the article.

A quick summary of the practices –

#1Embrace not knowing. Don't assume you know what another person is thinking or feeling. Test your assumptions. Be open to possibilities you haven't thought of.

#2Embrace radical difference. When practicing empathy, it's important to "get in there," own the conflict, and learn how to fight fair. Be willing to engage fully, even when it's uncomfortable.

#3Embrace commitment. Empathy is not easy or for the faint of heart. When you commit to practicing empathy, commit to it. Seriously. "Do the work necessary to comprehend not just the place the person is coming from but their problem."

#4Embrace community. When we practice empathy, we don't just do it for ourselves, we do it for the community, for those around us. "It enlarges those who offer it and binds them to others." It's like an antidote or salve for the pain and stress of disorder and chaos.

Ms. Turkle emphasizes that the practice of empathy is important at home and at work. (I think it's a must-have move every leader should have in their toolkit.) She reminds us that empathy "cultivates a respect for others," and "when you respect others, you’re not only a better colleague, you’re a better citizen."


For more insights and ideas on team and leadership development, follow Russ on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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