When the boss isn’t happy, nobody’s happy. It’s an age-old adage that just might have some science behind it. Empathy is often misunderstood as a weakness by those who have not harnessed its power. Empathy isn’t the art of agreeing with everyone you encounter, but comprehending and respecting the feelings of others. By understanding the feelings of others, we can better communicate our needs and make decisions in a constructive manner. If we understand that an employee is feeling bored at work, challenging them with a new assignment or more responsibility might improve their performance across the board.
How do we develop our sense of empathy? It turns out our brain has done the heavy lifting for us.
A group of Italian scientists were recording the neural activity of a monkey when they stumbled upon an interesting discovery. They found that some neurons fired every time the monkey picked up a piece of food. Occasionally, researchers had to pick up food to give to the monkey. When they did, they were surprised to find those same neurons fired in the monkey’s brain. Further investigation revealed that some brain cells fire both when the animal is performing an activity and also when it watches another animal perform the same activity. Scientists called these cells mirror neurons.
Research has shown that these cells might also occur in our brains as well. Scientists have found that when you are given a painful stimulus, parts of your brain nicknamed the pain matrix light up. If, instead of receiving the painful stimulus, you observe a loved one receiving it, your own pain matrix still lights up. You don’t necessarily experience the same sensory input, but you share a similar affective experience. This is the neural foundation of compassion. The very word compassion comes from the Latin words for “suffering together.”
It also works for opposite emotions: When you see a loved one succeed, your brain allows you to share in their joy.
So apparently the old saying “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone” isn’t as accurate as our grandmothers would have had us believe.
At Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, we understand that empathy is the key to fostering a great relationship with coworkers and employees. Instead of making you seem weak, developing empathy builds trust between you and your fellow workers, allowing you to make tough decisions without damaging morale at the office.
If we make tough decisions without empathy, we can more easily achieve what we want in the short term, but we also create resentment and mistrust, which hurt our own interests in the long-term. If instead we treat the affected people with kindness and empathy, we create trust and understanding. Tough decisions still need to be made, but if people trust you and understand that you are doing this for the greater good, you are more likely to win their cooperation. Better still, once trust is established, it becomes a foundation upon which you can build a strong long-term working relationship.
SIYLI understands that empathy doesn’t make you a push over, it allows you to push forward and accomplish your goals.