It’s the middle of July, and it’s hot. No need to dress in layers to go outside. However, inside some public places the thermostat is set so low that you may need to pack a sweater to avoid catching pneumonia. But there’s more to the temperature of a meeting room than air conditioning. There’s the interpersonal weather of the people in the room. For a reading on that warm or cold front you will want to tap into Empathy.
Empathy is a talent that has more of an emotional constitution. When they say “I feel you” they are really taking in the emotional vibes and wake from you. They can instinctively read people – their feelings, moods, and sometimes motivations. Like a barometer to atmospheric pressure, they can sense the emotional temperature and pressure of the room, unearthing unspoken motivations and conflict. I had a co-worker with Empathy who could enter a room and quickly identify anyone bearing an extra burden of emotion, regardless of what their words or body language said.
My wife and many other people with Empathy in their top 5 feel like they have a “dump here” sign on their forehead. Their warmth, authenticity and compassionate nature draw people in and others sense that this is a safe person to confide in. They can create trust, bring healing, or be effective negotiators. They often put emotions into words and help give voice to other people’s feelings, which is an important step in dealing with conflict or tension in a team or family.
It may be hard for some people to accept Empathy as part of their Top 5, especially in light of societal or cultural views on the value of emotions. Empathy may be seen as a talent to marginalize or ignore. I once spoke at a symposium for construction and only 3 out of 120 people had Empathy in their Top 5. Literally a tough crowd! People may also “freeze” this talent as a result of negative or painful experiences in the past. But it’s essential for those with the Empathy talent to recognize and develop this talent into a strength. And a leader who recognizes the importance of the Empathy talent will reap the benefits of a healthy and productive team and/or family.
It’s imperative while developing this talent to learn to set boundaries – both internally and externally. People with Empathy must be careful to leave work conflicts at work and home conflicts at home. To protect themselves from absorbing toxic emotions of others they need to remind themselves often not to take on someone else’s emotional weather or become negatively affected by an angry or depressed coworker – but rather to redirect that person to resources to deal with negative emotions, like conflict resolution or counseling.
Empathy shows up 17% of the time in people’s Top 5 but is a talent that cannot be developed much if it is not one of your Top 5. You either have it or you don’t. But we all need people with Empathy around us to tune into the emotional weather at home and at work to help take teams and families to a healthier place where feeling is believing.