My kindergarten-aged daughter has a new child in her classroom. We were talking about what it means to be a good friend - especially to a child who is starting school half-way through the year. We considered what he might be thinking and feeling, and discussed how to help him feel included in the friendships that already exist in the class. “Empathy,” I explained, “is when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to see the world from their perspective.”
My daughter replied, “isn’t it really that you are putting your heart into their heart?”
Well yes, that is really what empathy is about. We can all recall a time that someone put their heart into ours and the difference that made for us.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) researcher, Daniel Goleman says that of all the competencies (i.e. skills) related to EI, the most important one is empathy. Empathy builds trust and connection, the foundations of all relationships - at work and in our personal lives.
How do we practice the skills related to empathy? By truly listening to people and by having a deep curiosity for their perspectives. When we can suspend our own thoughts, judgements and ego and remain in a state of inquiry - especially in the midst of difficult conversations, we can begin to put our hearts into their hearts. When we practice listening with focus, staying present with the person, summarizing their ideas before we share our point of view, then again we are putting our hearts into theirs.