After 18 months of being told we must live six feet apart from anyone outside of our households, we are emerging from a post pandemic world with a heightened self-awareness but also the awareness of the importance and desire for human connection. As we languished during isolation, observed businesses permanently close, and reacted to devastated industries, there was also a collective push for positivity and productivity, and unbeknownst shared responses and mindsets were being shaped. The pandemic saw buzz words such as “pivotal” and “resilience” when describing recovery and call to action plans that were quickly developed and heralded. But while all of this was happening on the surface, a really critical concept was also surfacing and buzz worthy in its own right – empathy.
So what is Empathy? The Multi-Health Systems define empathy as “developing and maintaining relationships based on trust and compassion; acting responsibly while showing concern for others, their team, or their greater community/organization; and articulating an understanding of another’s perspective.” Empathy fits under the umbrella of Emotional Intelligence also known as EQ, something we have seen emerge over the pandemic and becoming incorporated within businesses more and more, through leadership training and team building. Emotional intelligence as defined by the Multi-Health Systems, is “a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we 1) Perceive and express ourselves; 2) Develop and maintain social relationships; 3) Cope with challenges; and 4) Use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way”. And empathy is the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence. It is recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel and involves being able to articulate your understanding of another’s perspective and behaving in a way that respects others’ feelings.
The pandemic has forced us to spend a lot of time with ourselves, getting to know and confront ourselves, and teaching us about change and growth. There is a spotlight on mental health and well-being that has finally received the focus and attention it deserves, and we are really seeing how prevalent it is within our workplaces and higher education institutions. It is no longer a taboo subject, but a widely accepted and encouraged topic of conversation, an ongoing and open dialogue. And this dialogue and any dialogue that revolves around our social and emotional skills and relationships requires empathy. It is a dialogue that requires reciprocity and understanding and communication, all essential in developing and nurturing healthy, productive and positive relationships in academia and workplace culture.
Higher education institutions and leaders can learn and adopt empathy in all they do. They occupy influential and impactful spaces. If you have high levels of empathy you are creating a successful environment. But to promote productivity and take care of the outside we first need to take care of the inside. Within our workplaces. Within our academic institutions. Being mindful and considerate of the well-being of the people within our spaces. Our students. Our future builders. Our current builders. Our leaders. Empathy is critical to team leadership. And we have to recognize that the team you lead is not about you; it’s about them. Understanding how people are feeling and what people’s priorities are and being able to adapt and pick up on those cues and what’s going on around you is all part of being empathetic. Because leading a team is not just about giving orders and being part of a team is not just about executing orders. There is a deeper level of understanding that we need to communicate and feel and give in return in order to create the most positive and effective spaces and relationships. We need to be transparent in both the directions and expectations and we need to feel comfortable seeking clarity and direction. The outcome of this could only be positive; feeling heard leads to growth, productivity and success. Empathy allows you the ability to observe behaviours and adjust your perspective and adjust your approach. And empathy gives us ability to recover from challenging situations, to grow, to heal and to develop who we are and the paths we decide to take. And it allows us to build positive and impactful relationships through our sensitivities to the feelings of others.
We are all working to progress, and we are all works in progress. As we manoeuvre through the complexities of a post pandemic world, the relationships we build and the spaces we create allow us to live with intention and compassion. We have the opportunity to arise from isolation with an even deeper human connection and understanding through a pivotal shared experience and feeling – we are living through and emerging from a pandemic together, and people are looking to build and rebuild in all aspects of our lives. So as we develop and rebuild our lives and connect with people and places we should do so with kindness, openness and empathy because understanding needs to go both ways.