Monday, September 20, 2010

Can you really walk in someone else’s shoes?

By Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa

Very simply put, empathy means we can walk in someone else’s shoes (not literally like this cartoon, of course).  Can you share another person’s feelings?  For a great leader, especially a Servant Leader, showing empathy and acceptance of others is essential to the growth and development of the people who live and work with them.  The truth is, anybody can lead perfect people.  However, I haven’t met a perfect person yet, have you?  Even though the work performance of others may be judge critically, people grow taller and perform their work tasks better when those who lead them empathize and accept them.
Empathy is a vehicle for effective understanding, communication, and relationships.  It is essential to find the solutions to problems that are so prevalent in today’s economic world.  Empathy is essential in handling complaints, retaining customers, building relationships, and leading others at home and in the workplace.  Most modern gurus in the areas of communications, management, and self development refer in one way or another to the importance of empathy.  We need to learn how to really understand another person’s feelings and emotions in order to promote professional and personal growth in ourselves and in others.

Showing empathy to your colleagues and family will help build trust because a leader who can empathize with others can also be trusted.   Acquiring empathy is about being in tune with who you are as a person.  The good news is, empathy involves skills and social beliefs, most of which can be learned.  I believe that people working on and developing their empathy skills can ultimately end some of the human suffering that happens on a daily basis in our world…it is THAT important and powerful!

Empathy is not an easy skill to learn and it is definitely not an easy skill to teach.  But, with some practice and patience (and yes, prayer), you will be able to refine and develop your empathy skills this week by working on the following suggestions.  Keep in mind that by becoming more empathetic, you are one step closer to becoming a more effective Servant Leader.  We all should be more conscious of how we relate to others because this world could use a few more Servant Leaders, don’t you agree?

Empathy Lesson #1 – 
Reflect on Your Own Feelings and Distinguish Them from the Feelings of Others
                        Recognize your own needs
                        Regulate your own emotional responses
                        Become more self aware
                        Take another person’s perspective on a subject

Empathy Lesson #2 – 
Imagine the Perspective of another Person
                        Discover what you have in common with others
                        Cultivate compassion
                        Have an Open Door Policy at work,
                               encouraging others to talk to you
                        Practice your listening skills

Empathy Lesson #3 – 
Bounce Back from Negative Emotions
                        Think before you act
                        Don’t let yourself dwell on the negative
                        Find something positive about the situation
                        Be thankful today for all that is good and right in your world

Empathy Lesson #4 – 
Establish Rapport with Others
                        Take time to get to know people
                        Try to identify and relate to others
                        Identify rapport-establishing phrases
                        Use a communication style that is sympathetic and interested

Empathy Lesson #5 – 
                        Realize that empathizing is hard work
                        Recognize your own biases
                        Develop an appetite for learning about other cultures
                        Keep an open mind and a positive attitude

Barbara Baggerly-Hinojosa is a mother, educator, and wife living in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.  She is a PhD student with Our Lady of the Lake University in Leadership Studies.  Mrs. Baggerly-Hinojosa is the CEO of The Main Thing Leadership Coaching Firm and is currently researching the relationship between the leadership of the high school principal and the high school drop out rate.  This article is an excerpt from the self published book, Are You A Ten?  The Ten Characteristics of a Servant Leader.   For ordering information, please contact Mrs. Baggerly-Hinojosa at

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