Empathy as a tool

Recently I have encountered some blindspots in some organizations, companies and individuals. We all have them, so that’s not surprising. What made me curious is that those blindspots circled around empathy.

I have been in touch with my feelings from a very young age. Learning about feelings and what to do with them, has been foundational in how I show up in the world.

More recently, I have been able to see that simply feeling the feelings isn’t enough and I have been able to look closely at how feeling and sensing are actually tools that can be used throughout my life. Emoting isn’t by definition a tool. It’s an experience. But what if it were a tool? What if the way we felt and what we sensed and how we communicated that, was actually used in our work or our relationships or in our creative process?

When I lived in community we learned about how individuals in groups took on roles. Sometimes consciously, but mostly subconsciously. Whomever attached the easiest to a role usually played it out in the group. Even if it wasn’t necessarily their personal position. Think about that for a moment. People can take on something for the group, even if it’s not how they truly feel. That’s amazing. And if they are conscious, then they can use transformative language to point out what they are feeling or sensing, without attaching to an outcome (of feeling heard, seen, understood, accepted, appeased, etc.). That can point to an elephant in the room that has blocked the way forward or air a grievance that has kept someone stuck.

I find that I am often sensing things that I don’t personally feel. I sense dissonance, chaos, confusion, fear, holding back, aggression, apathy, hurt, and more. I may not feel those personally, but when I talk to people, I get that sense from them. Even if they don’t say it overtly.

So what can we do about that?

I’m a big fan of using that empathy as a tool. If you’re in a leadership position, and you are an empath, you can ask questions: “I sense that this work doesn’t energize you. Is that true? Can you tell me about that?”
If you are in operations you can reflect, “I notice some missteps in our process. It feels like people are overwhelmed. Do you sense that?”
If you are in administration maybe you just know that folks are grumbling, but you sense that it’s coming from something unspoken and maybe outside the office. So you can say, “It seems like folks need a break or some morale-boosting event.”

You can’t train people to be empathetic, but you can support your empaths to use their talent for good. And if you’re a solopreneur, you can use empathy in a myriad of ways too, to connect with your stakeholders.

How do you use your empathy as a tool in your life?