Empathy seems like such an outward, selfless act. And in many ways, it is. You must focus on another person, make space for them, and get out of how you see the situation through your own eyes and hold space as well for they see it.
This all sounds very noble. Until a very broken person attempts to be empathetic. That’s like trying to help others put on their oxygen masks when you are about to pass out from lack of oxygen yourself.
As the Dalai Lama says:
If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able to develop compassion for others. An open heart is an open mind.
Empathy requires presence. It requires self-confidence to be able to make space and see someone’s point of view – without defensiveness or judgement. If you are so caught up in your own insecurities, fears, doubts, and negative emotions, you will never be able to make space for another person’s point of view. You will never have the stable foundation needed to truly connect with another person and just be with them.
Empathy for others starts with empathy for yourself. (Tweet This!)
As I like to say, you have to have your own house in order before you can truly be empathetic to another person. Think about the most unempathetic bosses you ever had. Were they bullies? Insecure? Ego-driven? Just angry at life? Yep. You can bet their own “houses” were a hot mess.
It’s truly hard to see that in the moment when those people are abusing you, but it requires us to have empathy for them as well.
You may very well have great intentions. You want to build a winning culture. You want to be an inspiring boss. You want to reap all the benefits of an empathetic brand and organization so you can succeed.
And I love that you’re here for it.
When people ask me where they can start building a culture of empathy, I always tell them the first step is to look inward. Practice presence and get really honest with yourself:
- Why do you resist self-compassion?
- Do you have empathy for your own imperfections?
- Do you support yourself with self-care? True self-care, not just massages every now and then but care that nourishes your body, mind, heart, and soul?
- Do you forgive yourself for your faults?
- Do you need to bolster your self-confidence so you can be less defensive in the face of disagreement or conflict?
To show empathy to others, first start by showing empathy to yourself.