Transforming Stress, Anxiety, and Fear with Empathy

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by John Chappelear
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When our US Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor was going through her confirmation hearing to be selected for the Supreme Court, some people seem to lose their minds that she might be empathic to cases that which come before the court. 

Being empathic doesn't make you a poor judge; it makes you an exceptional one. Empathy is truly, "I feel your pain." A lack of empathy, in psychiatric circles, often is defined as the mark of a sociopath, showing an evident lack of willingness or inability to hear and understand the perspective, experience, and emotions of others. I see empathy as allowing a judge to understand all components of the case better. On the other hand, politics, ambition, or character may prevent a judge from being empathetic. So, empathy can be the difference between providing justice or not.

As leaders, we are judges for the success or failure of the people we lead every day. To be both significant and useful, we need to not only understand empathy but embrace it wholeheartedly. 

Empathy, as you might guess, falls under the emotional umbrella of Emotional Intelligence.

It is the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another. That makes empathy directly connected to two of EI's four cornerstones, Self-Awareness, and Social Awareness. 

Using empathy correctly is a powerful relationship, engagement, and communication tool. The good news is that empathy is both a teachable and learnable skill allowing it to provide both demonstrably and measurable benefits. 

When individuals and organizations (including the Supreme Court) utilize empathy as a communications tool, interviews go much better, open and honest dialog is possible, and the gathering of information increases dramatically. Empathy honors everyone included in the process.

Here are some examples of how EI and Empathy connect:

• Willingness: to see the problem through the other person's point of view

• Respect: which allows recognition, acceptance and the possibility of agreement 

• Authenticity: honesty, a real expression of opinions without hypocrisy

• Warmth and openness: allowing for unconditional positive recognition

• Self-exposure: using personal experiences from to expand perspective

• Resolution: To identify and name the feelings on both sides and reach acceptance.

My practical experience has taught me that traditional intelligence measurements (such as IQ) are too narrowly focused to effectively determine how someone will react and behave in critical and stressful situations. 

As we understand and utilize EQ, we provide more extensive areas of understanding, which allow us to predict, identify, and enable how we can each be more "successful." 

"Empathy also plays a role in cooperation. One needs to pay close attention to the activities and goals of others to cooperate effectively. Effective cooperation requires being exquisitely in tune with the emotional states and goals of others." 

Frans de Waal - Emory University Department of Psychology.