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Hiring Empathy

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

I think most of us can agree that emotional intelligence is on our list of qualities we want in someone we are hiring, particularly if their engagement with other people is paramount to their success.

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to it:

1) Self-awareness

2) Self-regulation

3) Motivation

4) Empathy

5) Social skills

'Empathy is often defined as understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation. One understands the other person’s experience as if it were being experienced by the self, but without the self actually experiencing it.' - Sara D. Hodges and Michael W. Myers in the Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, Empathy is a not so simple trait as it is a complex collective and continues to build upon itself. Additionally, to have empathy we need to be accurate about our own emotions to recognize them in others. It is first and foremost an emotional skill and our own emotional self-awareness is crucial to our ability to identify emotions in others. As a hiring practice, we find this easier to know about someone we have worked with, but how do we discover this with someone new? And perhaps my favorite challenge is those that possessed great empathy when you hired them, but lost it over time. Then what? Can you coach someone's empathy back?

What we do know is that empathy is not a science, its more of an art form, and there are many factors that can lead us to being more or less accurate about the emotions of others. The message of empathy is always “I hear you” even if you don’t agree. These magic words are the first step to making others feel understood. “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.” - Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When you take time to understand where someone is coming from, the collaborative outcome is far more successful and efficient. Furthermore, by practicing empathy we develop our skills to read other people and understand the nuances of a situation.

Of course, being empathetic takes practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. To be empathetic, you need to be open and willing to recognize the feelings of others. We can also increase it in other ways, from not abiding by stereotypes and snap judgments to simply asking someone how their day is going.

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