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Understanding and developing empathy

Empathy is an important quality that allows us to see the world from the perspective of another person. To achieve it, we are told, requires us to escape egoism and put ourselves into someone else's experience. However, there is a bit more to it.

To be truly empathetic, we first need to better understand ourselves. It is not so much about transcending ourselves but about introspection, which will take us into less familiar parts of our minds. A person lacking empathy is, therefore, not simply selfish but not fully aware of the darker and weirder recesses of themselves. They are not refusing to enter the mind of another person; they are wary of what they might uncover in their own consciousness.

It is the fear of running into troubling emotions which, for many people, is the blocker to empathy. The emotions vary and are as unique as us and the situations we face when empathy is required. We might not want to face bad memories of being bullied in school; fear of failure and rejection; hiding parts of ourselves and pretending to be someone else to the external world. The opposite of empathy is not thinking of ourselves; it's thinking of ourselves in limited ways.

The more aware we are of ourselves the richer insight our insight into others will be. When we meet someone who is very cheery, the empathetic part of our brain might consider it a mask covering sadness. It does it because it's relating to a moment from our own experience when we were trying to hide the difficult time we were going through by putting on a brave face.

We need to develop our self-awareness and self-leadership skills to increases our ability to be empathetic. Our projects, both professional and personal, and the way we lead our teams are too often impeded because we are not empathetic enough to what is going on for the people we are working with. Empathy is an essential resource for our own personal fulfillment as well as the success of our teams.



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