Source | Harvard Business Review : By Annie McKee
Empathy—the ability to read and understand other’s emotions, needs, and thoughts—is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence and a critical leadership skill. It is what allows us to influence, inspire, and help people achieve their dreams and goals. Empathy enables us to connect with others in a real and meaningful way, which in turn makes us happier—and more effective—at work.
Many people mistakenly believe that empathy—like other emotional intelligence competencies—is something you’re born with or not. But it’s not that simple.
In fact, we all have the capacity for empathy. Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran’s studies have helped us understand that we have physical structures in our brains—called mirror neurons—that help us understand others’ experiences and feelings. When you walk into a meeting late where a heated discussion has been taking place and the hairs on your arms stand up, it’s not just that you’ve been able to read the body language in the room and recognized that a fight’s happening. Your mirror neurons are actually reflecting the feelings of the people present. You start feeling as they do—even though you just joined them and haven’t been involved in the fight.
We all know, though, that some people pick up clues well and others are clueless. They misread situations and tread on others’ feelings without awareness—or apology. Are they hopeless? Or, as people often ask me, is it possible to develop empathy? My answer is a resounding yes. Consider a leader of a large media company, who I’ll call Miguel.