Our Spring Citywide is scheduled for Tuesday, April 2nd.


Notes from a Conversation About Empathy

On August 26, 2018, a group of ethical leaders gathered to explore the role empathy plays in their leadership practices. What follows is a brief summary of that roundtable conversation. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rich conversation among the gathered participants.

Topic: Empathy: What, Where, When

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Insights From Around the Table

  • The ability to empathize is a demonstration of our values.
  • Demonstrations of empathy are powerful ways of showing our values and of showing how we value others.
  • When we open ourselves to the experiences of others, we have an opportunity to examine our own worldview.
  • Our ability to empathize with others requires us to suspend our own worldview in order to understand another’s perspective.
  • Empathy allows us to change our perspectives.
  • A key is to reconcile our own perspective with that of others.
  • In reconciling our perspectives we can gain insights into our shared values and differences in perspectives.
  • Getting past stereotypes is an important factor in our capacity to be empathetic towards others.
  • Empathy can also be overwhelming and lead to paralysis.
  • Being empathetic to others requires an emotional commitment.
  • The question of feelings and how we deal with them is important. Recognizing our connection to our emotions is critical to empathy.
  • Be open to what we don’t see.
  • Be sensitive to what people need.
  • Don’t forget self-care.
  • Empathy is a key to other traits of servant leadership.

Insights for Leadership

  • We are naturally drawn to fixing things in response to the challenges faced by those around us.
  • We need to support those whose work (nurses, social workers, chaplains, etc) is founded on their ability to empathize with individuals likely to be in distress.
  • There is a point where empathy is open and not open. The work still needs to get done.
  • We don’t know where people have come from and the things that weigh them down on any given day.
  • Empathy has a time stamp on it. Awareness of ourselves and others is an important element in practicing empathy towards others.
  • Loyalty is a relationship, not a one-way street. Showing empathy to those around us is one way to honor the importance of others.
  • Building trust is important in any group.
  • Special treatment for one can lead to a lack of trust among other group members. Leaders must sometimes walk a delicate balance between treating people as individuals and respecting the (sometimes) confidential information they are entrusted with.

A Golden Nugget

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

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