Strengths Spotlight: Empathy

Today I’d like to focus on the talent of Empathy. The quality of empathy is often listed in the top characteristics of successful leaders. What is it, and why is it important in the way that we lead?

Empathy Is the ability to sense emotions. It’s often likened to a sixth sense – an intuitive understanding of the emotional climate of a roomful of people, or of individuals. Empaths may, or may not, agree with the emotions of others but they definitely notice them, sometimes before others notice them. One of the challenges of empathy is to discern the difference between what others are feeling and what we, ourselves, feel. 

We can think of this strength as emotional radar. It’s like having an extra antenna that creates a broader bandwidth to read and understand emotional energy. People with this strength are described as approachable, easy to feel comfortable around, and they make good sounding boards.  They can hear the unvoiced concerns and needs of others and find just the right words or tone to address them. They can give voice to the feelings within and around themselves.

When someone with empathy is thriving, they are able to pick up their own, and others’ emotions, and are able to navigate through those feelings with ease. 

When someone with empathy is struggling it’s often because they are carrying the emotions of others (or the weight of the world) with no outlet. One of the blind spots of empathy is being drained or overwhelmed by the surrounding emotional climate. Empaths need to learn how to release their cares, and create healthy boundaries with the sources that drain them. That may mean choosing how and when they connect to sources that evoke emotion such as local or world news, music, tv, groups or other individuals. It also means having regular practices to release their cares, perhaps through prayer, meditation, exercise, or talking to trusted individuals.

Another blind spot of an emotionally well-informed empath could be making others uncomfortable. Some people may feel the need to create distance because you seem to know too much about them.  Empaths need to remember that just because they are able to pick up on other emotions, that person may not be ready or willing to share their feelings at that time. It’s important to meet people where they are, and not where you are.

If you are someone with empathy you can be an emotional barometer for your family or work team. You can be the relationship glue that holds a team together as you understand and lead them through highs and lows. You are a person who shows up for the people who need your support, perhaps before they even know they need it. 

Empathy is a powerful quality and gift. It is my number one strength and it’s been both a blessing and a curse! At times I’ve gotten lost in the emotions around me, which I wrote about in my book Lost and Found: Discovering Strength in Love and Faith. In time, I found many tools and techniques to regulate this powerful talent.  Feel free to share what you’ve learned about your empathy with me.