One of the most frequent characteristics attributed to top leadership in organizational surveys is a lack of empathy. Making this even more dangerous is the frequent but mistaken belief that empathy cannot be learned as an adult. In a recent YouTube video* of a Royal Society of Arts presentation, Dr. Roman Krznaric, cultural historian and author on the concept of “outrospection” (as a balance to the often exaggerated emphasis on introspection in recent decades) shared an excellent model of empathy that should be of just as much interest to top leaders and managers as it was to English artists. Dr. Krznaric presents six learnable skills (habits) with which we can all develop more empathy toward others.
1. CULTIVATE YOUR CURIOSITY ABOUT OTHERS: in an organizational context, this can be done by taking advantage of more opportunities to ask questions about the opinions and experiences of others.
2. CHALLENGE YOUR OWN PREJUDICES: All of us have moments in which we tend to judge before getting all the facts: prejudices. Recognizing them will help us to avoid having our behaviors controlled by them.
3. DISCOVER COMMONALITIES: We quickly identify differences between ourselves and others, but we are much slower to recognize, and even slower yet to admit, the similarities that exist.
4. BALANCE ASKING WITH TELLING: We immediately increase the perception in others of our empathy, when we are careful to listen more than we talk.
5. INSPIRE CHANGE: We inspire change in others when we are first willing to change ourselves. An important byproduct of this change is increased empathy.
6. DEVELOP AN AMBITIOUS IMAGINATION: Krznaric uses this name to describe creativity and innovation shared with others, which creates greater empathy and trust.