Empathy is the antidote to the barrier of Inward Focus. Empathy is about sensing another’s emotions and having the imagination to understand their situation or what they might be thinking.
The repercussions of empathy ripple out to touch much of our lives. For example, our ability to empathise determines how well we can negotiate, communicate with different people, or collaborate with others. Imagine how much of your day you spend in those activities.
We need empathy more than ever, both for personal wellbeing and business success.
As with all soft skills, empathy isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ bolt-on attribute. It is key to our success and wellbeing. And, with the rise of robotics and AI, empathy will help to future-proof our careers, being an ability that machines cannot yet replicate.
We have to have a revolution so that all young people grasp empathy and practice it. This is the most fundamental revolution that we need to get through.Bill Drayton, CEO, Ashoka
Barrier Breakers Foundation believes we must re-think our education system for equality to become a reality. We need to move away from the mechanistic ‘teaching to the test’ approach and towards an education system where soft skills are embedded in every learning experience.
Soft skills are the traits and abilities of attitude and behaviour rather than knowledge or technical aptitude.
Soft skills – such as communication, leadership, confidence, motivation, self-awareness, creativity, and teamwork – are increasingly recognised as key to enterprise, entrepreneurship, and leadership.
‘Soft skills are an asset that neither employers nor employees can ignore.’ James Caan CBE
Soft skills are becoming critical determinants of survival in the face of current challenges. They are the skills we need to adapt successfully to a globalised, rapidly changing, unpredictable environment.
However, there’s a massive soft skills gap, particularly affecting young people.
While soft skills are essential to workplace success and personal wellbeing, their value extends even further.
Do we want an education system that develops the individual, encourages questioning, reflection, and a curious mind, creating a lust for lifelong learning and bringing about social mobility and equality? If so, then education policy needs to recognise and prioritise soft skills fully.
Soft skills open our eyes to reality. They give us the strength to change things for the better, and they provide us with the resilience that making change demands.
There is evidence that this new kind of education would have dramatic benefits, not only for the young people concerned but also for society.
Graham Allen’s report, Early Intervention: The Next Steps, detailed “the immense penalties to society and to the individual of failing to provide a strong foundation of social and emotional capabilities early in life.”
If we care about equality, we must support all young people by putting soft skills at the heart of education.
Education is still relentlessly focused on preparing young people to pass exams. But this approach ignores the skills employers are now looking for, the skills that allow young people to navigate rapid, constant change effectively, the skills that encourage imagination, creativity, and innovation, and the skills that will develop an individual’s wellbeing and success.
Back in 2015, Dr Anthony Seldon spoke out about his belief that state schools have much to learn from the private sector, which is far better at preparing students not just with good grades but with “a grounding in soft skills.”
He recognised that state schools are “the victim of forces that compel them to focus on a narrow range of exam teaching.”
We’ve worked in soft skills development for almost 20 years, from when businesses saw them as nice-to-have, fluffy add-ons – and were consequently they were never addressed. Things have changed! But while awareness has grown, the problems produced by a lack of soft skills are becoming ever more apparent and pressing.
Is enough being done at a government policy level?
Not in our opinion.
Young people are setting off into the world of work without the necessary skills.
And they may not even be aware of this – not until they try to find a job!
Every culture is full of ‘boxes’ that precede us and into which we may or may not fit easily. So it’s not just your past that might get in the way of your future potential…but the past.
Different cultures, different boxes.
For some, the boxes of their culture work well; for many, they don’t.
And this pre-determined past that we’re born into can get in the way of our potential, our future, our life.
Often, we get trapped in boxes without even realising it.
We mistake them for the truth.
Often the most aggressive jailer, keeping us in a box, is our own inner voice. It has absorbed all the boxes of our culture and pushes us into them at every opportunity:
“I’m too old to…”
“When I’ve lost a few more pounds, I’ll…”
“My religion says I mustn’t…”
“I’m not intelligent enough to…”
When you hear yourself thinking about limiting judgements such as these, do a double-check.
Make sure it’s what you really believe.
Or whether it’s just a box that you – or that jailer – are putting yourself into.
Don’t let the past dictate your future.
The word ’empathy’ is becoming more common, while empathy itself seems to be on the wane. But do you really understand what empathy is? If you don’t, how can you notice if you’re losing your empathic abilities?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, empathy is:
the power of mentally identifying oneself with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object of contemplation
Empathy is very different to sympathy.
(watch this short video)
It’s the ability to:
- Take the perspective of another person
- Stay out of judgement
- Recognise emotion in others and communicate it
Empathy is a basic human capability that we can develop.
Empathy can also be lost.
Here are a few ways you can keep your empathy muscle in trim:
- Do something for someone unexpectedly — without expectation of reward or recognition
- Express appreciation as often as you can
- Check-in on how you listen — give others your full attention
- Notice how you relate to others — and whether you judge or ‘box’ them
Empathy is great for everyone in your life — and it’s great for you! Not only does empathy improve your wellbeing, but it also makes you a better communicator, negotiator, networker, and more.
‘If there is one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view’. Henry Ford
Empathy is a win-win.
Make sure you don’t lose yours.