Empathy: Why It’s Important & 6 Ways to Increase It

by Mark Jenney

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel sensitivity toward the feelings of others. Many of us may make lighthearted, Clinton-esque I-feel-your-pain jokes, but really, if you’re an empathetic person, this is exactly what you do: understand someone else’s feelings. Empathy is a huge contributor toward the success of individual relationships. Additionally, some experts believe that the ability to feel empathy is one of the most important skills in the business world today.

Exhibiting empathy toward coworkers, clients, family members, and essentially every individual with whom you come in contact makes you see the world through the eyes of others and understand that your view of a particular situation may not be everyone else’s view. More than that, though, practicing empathy makes you a better communicator, reduces your prejudices, improves your overall well being, and earns you a reputation as a good person to do business with.

Of course, being empathetic takes some patience and some practice. How can you boost your ability to empathize? Here are five approaches to try.

  1. Put yourself in their shoes. It can be hard to understand the motives and behaviors of others, but that’s because you’re looking at them from a very specific point of view: your own. Instead, as the old saying goes, turn the tables, put yourself in their shoes, and see if you can make a bit more sense out of the other person’s logic. Doing so can take you from “why” to “aha.”
  1. Read fiction. Good literary fiction puts readers inside the minds of some pretty compelling characters. We get to understand how they think and why they behave in a certain way, which is exactly what we need to do in order to empathize more with others. This isn’t just conjecture, either; a 2013 study published in Science supported the idea that reading fiction improves theory of mind, or the ability to recognize that other people have their own individual needs, beliefs, and points of view.
  1. Listen actively. When someone else is talking, listen. Don’t just hear their voice and think about how you’re going to respond — quiet your interior monologue and pay close attention to the other person’s words, inflection, and nonverbal cues. You’ll not only be able to respond more accurately and genuinely, but you’ll become privy to lots of new information and more and more people recognize you as a person who will listen to their concerns without judging or interrupting.
  1. Talk the talk. Even if you’re not feeling particularly empathetic toward a given person, act like you do. Use phrases like “I understand” or “That makes sense” when listening to another person’s point of view. When other people hear these validating statements, they feel like you understand their point of view and recognizing why they feel a certain way.
  1. Be curious about the lives of others. Jumping off on the recommendation to read fiction, find out about people’s real life stories. Everyone has a complicated and interesting history, and finding out about it helps you to understand the attitudes and emotions that they bring to work and everyday life. Not only does this approach make you more empathetic, but it turns a group of strangers into a community of friends.
  1. Be grateful. Take some time on a regular basis (every day if you can) to pause and count your blessings. Be honest: you’ve probably got a pretty good life. Sure, you might be more stressed out than you’d like, and there are probably a few things in your world that could be going a little better, and you wouldn’t be human if there weren’t some things bothering you, but on the whole? Chances are, you’ve got a lot to be grateful for. Appreciate what you’ve got, and it will put you in a better mindset to understand the ups and downs of the lives of others.

How is your own personal empathy quotient? Many of us could probably improve in this department, but the good news is that empathy is something that can definitely be improved. I’ve given you six ways to practice in your quest to become a more empathetic person. Can you add to this list? Tell us in the comments.

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10 Habits and Behaviors that Lead to Success

by Mark Jenney

10 Habits and Behaviors

Success can mean different things to different people, but achieving it is almost never a matter of luck. Rather, it’s the result of many small habits and behaviors, all of which keep you on a path that leads straight to your goals and dreams.

Having some setbacks in fulfilling your entrepreneurial aspirations? See if you can make these ten habits and behaviors part of your routine.

  1. Acknowledge the good in every situation. It’s easy to be negative, and we’ve all been around negative people who have something discouraging to say about everything and everyone. Not only is this attitude a real drag to be around, it’s potentially harmful. Instead of sliding down the slippery slope of pessimism, take the time to, as many a wise mother has said, say something nice. This applies not only to challenges and difficult situations at work, but to how you speak to yourself. If you’re always internally berating yourself, your confidence (and your work) will suffer. Be positive — it makes a big difference.
  2. Commit to working hard and working often. “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration,” as Thomas Edison is so frequently quoted as saying. Sure, you could have a million dollar idea, but if you’re not working to bring it to fruition, you’ll never be successful. Showing up to work hard is the only way to get things done. And keep pushing yourself further, reminding yourself that if hard work were easy, everyone would do it. To quote Zig Ziglar, “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
  3. Write things down. It’s great to train your memory, but you don’t want to take changes trying to remember all the small things you’ve committed to doing. Instead, make lists, keep a detailed calendar, and take notes. You won’t forget anything, you’ll get the satisfaction of crossing off things that are completed, you’ll keep all of your appointments, and you won’t have to search for that important detail from last week’s meeting.
  4. Be an active listener. The ability to listen well can make the difference between adequate work and outstanding work. When you’re communicating with others, really listen to what they tell you — what they say, of course, but also how they say it. Give them your full attention so you can understand their inflection and read all of their nonverbal cues. Not only will you better serve your clients and customers, but you’ll earn a well-deserved reputation for being a great person to work with and work for.
  5. Be detail oriented. We’ve all been told not to sweat the small stuff, and that may be good advice if you’re looking to avoid unnecessary drama in your personal life. However, when it comes to business endeavors, the details are what sets you apart from your competition. They’re also what customers notice most, especially when they’re not done right.
  6. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. This point may seem to be at odds with the previous one, but just because you’re focusing on important details doesn’t mean you’re making things more complicated. However, setting unnecessary meetings, getting bogged down in busy work, not delegating tasks to those who can handle them best, and neglecting to follow the OHIO principle (that’s Only Handle It Once) can add unnecessary complication to your workday.
  7. Take time to reflect. We’ve all been told about importance of learning from our mistakes, lest we make them again, and growing from our triumphs so we can continue to succeed. As philosopher and writer George Santayana is so often quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Give yourself time on a regular basis, maybe once a week, to reflect on everything that’s happened. Writing your thoughts in a journal (in keeping with the third point on this list) is a great way to do this, as it creates a record that you can look at whenever you need guidance or encouragement.
  8. Give to a greater good. Giving back to your community or to a worthy cause, whether it’s in time, money, or both, is an ideal way to keep your perspective about your work and remember how fortunate you really are. Plus, many entrepreneurs feel that it is their responsibility to give to others. Plus, having a personal cause or greater mission in life helps you take the long view, both in business and in life. Related: 8 Great Reasons For Your Business to Give Back
  9. Recognize that in order to have a sharp mind, you need to take care of your body. Physical activity can keep you healthier, help you sleep better, and make you feel better all around, but it does more than that. It helps you to clear your mind when you’re stressed, improves your memory and your mental acuity, and even makes you more creative.
  10. Do what you love, love what you do. Financial success is a welcome result of hard work, but true success comes from finding joy in what you do. When choosing a career path, don’t follow the money — follow your heart. Do what you love, put your whole self into it, and you’ll not only increase your chances of entrepreneurial success, but you’ll be happy. It’s impossible to put a price on that.

What habits keep you heading toward success? Share some ideas in the comments! Follow me. 

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The Definite Problem of Uncertainty

The Definite Problem of

What will tomorrow bring? If you could tell, you’d never have any stress, anything to worry about, or any reasons to doubt yourself as you forge ahead. Unfortunately, despite what self-proclaimed clairvoyants may tell you, there’s no crystal ball that can accurately predict the future. We take our chances, leaving our lives and our livelihood in the hands of fate, or luck, or destiny, or ourselves — whatever power, if any, you believe is in control.

In short, we’re surrounded by uncertainty. What’s more, it’s an ongoing issue; even when things are at their best and the world is totally optimistic about the future, there’s still some degree of the unknown lurking out there. How can you be an entrepreneur, operate a business, and be successful in this sort of economic and political climate? Here are a few points to consider.

Be Prepared

More than the scout motto or a song from The Lion King, “be prepared”  is the mantra of anyone who’s ready to weather uncertainty. There are a few things you can do to keep yourself ready for the unknown. First, you’ll want to strengthen your relationships with colleagues, since they’re the ones you’ll rely on for support in difficult times. Next, don’t get too far ahead, especially if you have an active imagination and you tend to let your negative thoughts expand. It’s easy to project negativity far into the future, but for your own sake, stop yourself. Stay in the here and now, know what’s currently happening in terms of business and the economy, and be well informed as you move into the future.

Finally, preparation for uncertainty means being ready for a number of different outcomes. Your next idea could be a homerun, but it could also be an enormously devastating strikeout. It’s great to have confidence, of course, but it’s also important to be realistic: being prepared for the less desirable outcomes can help you and your business survive.

Have Confidence in Your Decisions

An uncertain business climate can make it difficult for entrepreneurs to make decisions that will affect their economic future. Still, it’s important to take very calculated risks and make informed decisions — and be confident that you made the right ones . Yes, you’ll make wrong decisions now and then, but so will everyone. Learn from them, don’t dwell on what could have been, and move on.

Of course, having confidence in your decisions means having the courage to make decisions in the first place. It’s tempting to wait around until the economy improves or your bank account is more robust, but if you do that, you’ll be waiting around forever.

From Uncertainty, Leaders Emerge

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos. These may all be household names, but the truth is that these individuals and many others whose names are not as well known rose to leadership positions specifically because of their abilities to chart a course of success through the waters of uncertainty. So, take it as a challenge: if you can survive times of great uncertainty, you’re likely to emerge as an entrepreneurial leader that others will revere and admire

Remember, it’s Cyclical

It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel during difficult economic times, but rest assured: it’s there, and it’s coming up. Just as there are times of great uncertainty, there are also times of great prosperity. One follows the other, and while the timing of it all may be the most uncertain thing of all, it’s important to remind yourself that whatever it is that you’re facing, it’s temporary.

Don’t Get Sucked In

It’s easy to fall victim to uncertainty. Many will throw in the towel, close up shop, and head to a less stressful career during difficult times, but the true entrepreneurs will stay the course. With diligent preparation, a confident mindset, and a positive attitude, you can survive — and even thrive — in the face of uncertainty.

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