Essential Emotional Intelligence Skills: Empathy

empthEmpathy, the ability to walk in another’s shoes and understand that reality, is a powerful tool for relating across differences and creating synergy on a team.  Empathy enables you to demonstrate understanding, make connections and defuse emotions.  It is especially helpful in emotionally charged situations.  Empathy does not solve problems or resolve conflict.  Rather it makes people feel understood, helps calm the situation and reduces defensiveness so that communication, problem solving and conflict resolution can take place.¹

Famed psychologist, and developer of nonviolent communication, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg defined empathy as, “a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”

While this sounds easy to understand, it often is applied in incorrect manners even with good intentions.

Empathy is not:

  • Fixing
  • Reassuring
  • One-Upping
  • Advising
  • Educating
  • Correcting
  • Analyzing
  • Interrogating
  • Explaining
  • Justifying
  • Shutting Down

To be empathetic you are required to be fully present and do six things:

  1. Shift your perspective to focus on the other person
  2. Abandon  your perspective
  3. Suspend judgment
  4. Be curious and have a desire to learn
  5. Seek to understand beyond the words
  6. Show compassion and tolerance

Quick exercise:

List two places where you can use empathy to strengthen your relationships on the job.

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¹ Cherbosque, Jorge, Gardenswartz, Lee, Rowe, Anita, “Team Effectiveness: Pressing the Reset Button”, EIDI, 2013.