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Why Is Empathy Important? 5 Unexpected Benefits That Will Make Life Better

Empathy is a powerful emotion that helps us understand others better. But why is empathy important? Well, its benefits are many and it is just not for enriching our relationships. Also, empathy improves our ability to communicate with others, reduces stress, adds meaning to life, increases productivity, and even can increase innovation. Also, find out about the barriers to being empathetic and what empathy is not.

Friends Forever! Why is empathy important?
Friends Forever!

What Empathy Is.

I like this definition of empathy.

“Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they are feeling.”

This definition breaks up the components of empathy well. First, if you understand another person’s emotion whether it be happy or sad, you have empathy. Second, you have empathy if you see things from the other person’s perspective. Lastly and most importantly, you fully immerse yourself into the other person’s situation feeling what they are feeling.

What Empathy Is Not And How It Can be Stifled.

See below for what is not empathy and barriers to being empathetic.

What Is Not Empathy.

The key component of empathy is having a connection, a feeling, that is shared with another person. So empathy is:

  • Not Sympathetic. One can be sympathetic and say “I am sorry for your loss” and not be empathetic. 
  • Nor Is It Pity. Pity says “I feel sorry for you, but I am separate from you.”  It’s what allows us to walk past a homeless person on the street without thinking. We don’t feel their hardship as connected to ours.
  • Neither Is It Compassion. Compassion can be driven by empathy. Once you are empathetic with a person, compassion can occur where you are driven to action. Compassion  is what occurs when empathy is taken one step further and drives action.

Barriers To Being Empathetic.

It is said that 95% of us can be empathetic toward another person, but there are barriers to empathy. So if someone is consistently unempathetic and unresponsive to others, it could be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. So there are many reasons why some people lack empathy more than others.In fact, there are at least four major barriers to being empathetic. These include having cognitive biases toward others, victim blaming, having an overwhelming fear for your own personal safety to care about others, or having a personality disorder. For a further explanation, see Why Do People Lack Empathy In Others?

Why is Empathy Important – The Benefits.

If we have empathy for a person, we better understand that person. As a result of that understanding, there are many benefits to us, the person we have empathy for, and for us collectively. Below are the benefits when you or others have empathy.

1. Improves Person Communications and Decision Making. 

When you can imagine yourself in another person’s shoes, you better understand their needs and feelings. Specifically, you better observe their body language and tone of voice. Also, you identify their unspoken pain points and how they really feel. Lastly, you can better predict their reaction on what you will do or say. All this new information enhances decision-making and better decisions.

2. Prevents Conflict and Stress. 

Empathy enables you to prevent or deal more easily with conflicts both in your personal life and at work.  If you understand and can put yourself in another person’s situation, there is less likelihood that conflict will occur. For more information on stress, see What Causes Stress? – 9 Reasons You Are Stressed.

3. Enriches Personal Life. 

When you and others are empathic, this builds stronger relationships and increases personal engagements. Also, empathy decreases negativity and all the unhappiness that comes with it. Thus, empathy enriches and provides meaning to your life. See, How to Find Purpose in Life (with examples) for more details.

4. Increases Productivity and Commitment

Especially in a work setting, empathy is a catalyst for people being more engaged. Additionally, empathy promotes inclusivity. Thus, when leaders and employees are empathic, commitment to common goals and productivity increases. Also, employees are less likely to consider quitting their job. Lastly, empathy increases trust both in your personal and business relationships.

5. Increases Innovation

In a work setting, empathy encourages people to put forth their ideas and question the status quo. Thus when leaders and co-workers are empathetic , innovation increases.

A Cautious Note About Empathy:

In some situations empathy is not beneficial. For example if you observe a car accident, your empathy could overcome your emotions so that you are not able to help the victim. Another example is that you have so much empathy toward a cause or group of people that you start having an intense hate for what or who is adversary. See Examples Of Ideology And The Reasons They’re The Most Polarizing for more details on the polarizing effects of following ideologies to an extreme.

For more on the benefits of empathy, see FreshDesk’s A Guide To Empathy In Customer Service, Catalyst’s The Power of Empathy, and TheConversation’s Understanding Others Feelings.

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