Having empathy is a part of emotional intelligence as defined by leaders in the field of EI such as Rueven Bar-On. Daniel Goleman describes three types of empathy including: cognitive, emotional and compassionate. In the book It’s Not You It’s Your Personality, it is noted that having empathy is a big part of interpersonal skills. It has to do with how much we care about other peoples’ feelings and whether we can see things from other peoples’ perspectives.
A recent episode of the TV show, Bones, showed an excellent example of how Emily Deschanel’s character Temperance Brennan lacked empathy. For those unfamiliar with the program, the Brennan has a high IQ but may lack in the EQ or emotional quotient department. In this episode, Bennan lacks the ability to realize that her logical thinking and lack of understanding of others’ emotions is rude. In the episode, Feet on the Beach. Brennan must work with a podiatrist that she feels lacks her superior training and skills. While this may be fodder for entertainment, people may run into a similar situations at work where they may feel their abilities are being dismissed.
How can someone so smart lack empathy? It may be difficult for people to do what Dr. Jeremy Sherman refers to as “shoe shifting” or putting ourselves in another’s shoes. “When you put yourself in another person’s shoes you risk seeing yourself as others would see you—not quite as special as you think”
How do we improve our empathetic abilities? One way is to improve our listening skills. For more tips on improving empathy, check out Sherman’s article in Psychology Today.