The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life

When we lose empathy, we lose our humanity

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, October 09, 2017
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Todd Adams, CEO of Star Thrower productions, the distributor of my training film Gifts from the Mountain, just wrote this piece and I asked his permission to share it. Important reading!

A recent study at the University of Michigan found that empathetic skills in college students have declined by as much at 48% over the last 8 years. The reasons for the decline are many, but two in particular stand out:

  • People participate in less face-to-face communication,
  • Mobile devices are taking the place of actual interaction.

This same challenge is faced by organizations. The ever-increasing drive for productivity has changed the time people spend together. Remote workplaces, file sharing, and self-paced learning all contribute to fewer face-to-face interactions. This lack of physical interaction makes it difficult to truly connect. As noted by Dr. Sherry Turkle in her book, Reclaiming Conversation.

“Empathy is uniquely human.
It cannot be mastered without face-to-face conversations.”

Improving empathy requires an investment. The good news is that the actual cost of improving empathy is small, and the potential payout huge.

Research has shown that teams with higher empathy are more creative and productive. To improve empathy, organizations require an investment of time. The goal should be to allow time for people to get to know each other as individuals. Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Schedule informal discussion time at meetings - Set aside a few minutes at each meeting for non-organizational discussions.
  • Encourage face-to-face communication - When possible, encourage people to speak directly, rather than email.
  • Special events – Do things not directly related to work. Watch and discuss a video, plan an outing or group breakfast - it doesn’t matter.
  • Remind people you care – This simple action will encourage trust. Trust will improve communication. Communication will improve empathy. Nice.

We all have the ability to be more empathetic. To improve empathy, individuals require an investment of commitment. Here are a few ways to improve your ability to empathize:

  1. CHALLENGE your own assumptions. 
  2. DO NOT JUDGE the choices of others based on your personal upbringing/life experiences. 
  3. LISTEN to others’ stories. 
  4. TRY to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. 
Little changes can make a big difference. Invest in improving empathy. You will like your return on investment.

Here are two short video series by my colleague, Dewitt Jones, that can help you address empathy. You can preview them here.

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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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