How Would You Answer This Question? The State Of Practicing Empathy In America: Part One

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In January 2022, Ignite 360 fielded a survey to help understand how empathy is showing up among American adults - how many feel they have it, when and with whom they think empathy is important to have, and where do they struggle.  One of the initial empathy questions came in a sequence in the survey with statements about one’s personality and self-perceptions of one’s own well-being.
Respondents were offered choices to answer along a 5-point scale from “agree strongly” to “disagree strongly” with the mid-point answer being “no strong feelings either way.”

Prefacing that set of statements was the following: “Generally speaking, how much do you personally agree or disagree with each of the following statements?” 

The statement in question was: “It’s easy for me to see the point of view of others.”

How would you answer that question?

Why Does This Even Matter?

Empathy is a critical component of the skills we use every day to enable us to be the people we are.  Practicing empathy enhances communication, collaboration, decision-making and ideation. It’s like the salt on our skill set, bringing out the connection to food through a newly revealed depth of flavor. Build empathy, and you can increase the impact of your communication, persuasion or other skills.

Empathy seasons so many skills and it also helps us establish trust, reach forgiveness, and have compassion.Yet our ability to have empathy has been in decline, like when our muscles cramp because we don’t have enough sodium in our system, empathy has left us limping in our interactions.This decline in empathy skills was first reported in a 2010 study from the University of Michigan that found a 40% decline in empathy skills in college students from 1979 thru 2001.

This shows up in our workplace empathy and in our personal life.  Just think about social media where our polarized, winner-takes-all approach has left people feeling detached, disenfranchised and lonely.

In the workplace, limited empathy from managers and leaders has left employees not feeling very connected to their organizations or inspired to be innovative and contribute.  As a result, employees are finding other opportunities elsewhere, a la The Great Resignation.

And the challenges around empathy impact the work that we do when we are at work.  If you can’t have empathy with your colleagues, how can you have empathy with your customers, clients, and consumers?  And if you can’t see where those valuable cohorts are coming from and what their needs are, how will you build products and services that will gain traction and win in the marketplace?

The Confusion Around Empathy

I’ve found empathy to be a misunderstood term. People often go straight to the “feeling” side of empathy, at the expense of the cognitive, perspective-taking side. It’s cognitive empathy that is used in most of our interactions with people other than those we are closest to – the clerk at the store, the colleague in the office, the client on the phone, the stranger on the street.

The truth is, there are two forms of empathy - cognitive and emotional.  Both are important. Both are innate skills with which we are born. And both need to be nurtured to be made strong. How are your empathy skills?

Which brings me back to the question at hand: How easy is it for you to see the point of view of others.

Survey Says…

Nearly 1/3 of US adults, 18+ (n=1,000) said they could not agree or actually disagreed with the statement “It’s easy for me to see the point of view of others.” 

Imagine that. One-third of the people you are going to encounter today cannot easily see your point of view. I suppose the good news is that 2/3 of the people can but 1/3 feels like an awful lot. And when you think about the degradation in our interactions, rage flaring up, bad behavior on social media, it doesn’t have to be everyone engaging in that behavior, just enough to be noticeable. Like maybe 1/3 of American adults is noticeable.  It seems like we are all part of the problem. Do we have the courage to be part of the solution? Could we start practicing empathy?

Coming Next…

We go deeper into the data to see who might be more or less empathetic than others. And when is empathy important. And with whom?

Expand your understanding of empathy…

By reading more empathy books. Check out Ignite 360 CEO Rob Volpe’s book on the 5 Steps to Empathy, Tell Me More About That: Solving the Empathy Crisis One Conversation at a Time.

Learn how to Juice Empathy for Better Business Results with this live presentation recording with the former Head of Insights, Juice+ at Pepsico, Kelli Davis

Understand how empathy can help avoid creating an “ugly baby” project.

The saying goes that you have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – what about when it’s an evening gown?

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Contact Rob

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