Self-Compassion and Collaborating on Empathy
I went into this blog post thinking it would be about empathy and raising empathy for others to better leadership skills. I wanted to find a TED talk that discussed the importance of empathy and being aware of your fellow humans while being a leader. Scrolling through YouTube search results, I clicked on one that seemed interesting: “Reimaging Empathy: The Transformative Nature of Empathy,” expecting it to provide a new, alternative way to be empathetic. The way it began, it totally met my expectations while still providing revelations about empathy. It started discussing the most common interpretation of empathy: taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. Paul Parkin’s argument was that this interpretation is actually not at all accurate or, even, possible. In fact, trying to take this position in empathy can be potentially harmful. “When we think we can do that, we actually start making assumptions about what other people have experienced: assumptions that can lead to disconnection or misunderstandings” (Parkin, 4:35). Assumptions, of course, is not at all what empathy is about. “Empathy doesn’t make assumptions. Empathy forges communication that is inquisitive, that is nonjudgmental, that is validating and compassionate” (Parkin, 5:05). This, of course, is what makes empathy so pivotal in leadership. You need to be able to make connections with followers and others to lead everyone to decisions that everyone can agree on and be happy with.
About halfway through, though, it took a turn I was not expecting, but one I think I needed to hear. Parkin started discussing the importance of having empathy for oneself as well as those around them. A perfectionist society, he said, can create a lack of empathy for ourselves. “The higher we raise the bar, the more critical we become of ourselves” (Parkin, 6:50). Self-compassion is a thing I struggle with a lot, and I don’t think I’m the only one by far. This is something that comes in especially when I’m trying to be a leader. I want to make sure that everyone is in agreement that I leave out my preferences, or I worry about every little mistake I may have made along the way to finishing the project. It’s better to not worry about mistakes and just fix them, and to make sure your voice is heard; both are things that can be helped through self-empathy.
He also discussed a bit about importance and the clash of importance and empathy. This told me that empathy should be seen as more vital than the idea of being “in charge” or “more important” when it comes to leadership. In talking about his own personal experiences in learning to be a leader, he said he was too focused on being in charge. “The more I tried to make myself important, the more I lost myself along the way” (Parkin, 11:50). He lost the empathy that had helped him get so far in the first place and found his leadership skills lacking. “When we co-create empathy in relationships, we learn to speak each others’ empathy languages” (Parkin, 14:23). This co-creating of empathy can help us connect even more with one another, which, in turn, makes us better leaders. Empathy, connectedness, and collaboration on relationships are all required to be the best leaders possible.
Parkin, P. (TEDx). (2015). Reimagining empathy: The transformative nature of empathy [Youtube video]. United States: TEDx. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4aHb_GTRVo