There are a lot of talented people out there in the world. Slick salespeople, creative artists, intelligent programmers. They all have a skill set that makes them special and that makes them valuable, but for my money, the greatest talent or skill that you can have is empathy: the ability to understand or identify with another person. Don’t get this confused with sympathy, which is more about feeling the same as another person. But empathy doesn’t require you to share a feeling, thought or motivation with another person. Rather, empathy refers to your ability to simply understand or identify with those feelings, thoughts or motivations – and that is a talent you can leverage in many walks of life.
Of course, I think the unspoken caveat to having this talent is that you then know what to do with that understanding. In my line of business (marketing), this talent is essential to success. This industry is about understanding a specific target, and what motivates them, engages them, scares them, makes them happy, etc. Those who can use their skill of understanding another person can really connect with their message.
But, empathy is a great talent in many other industries, as well. Nearly every industry that provides a product or service has another person as the end user. Those who can best understand what that end user wants are in a position to succeed.
OK, let’s say you don’t have a product or service – you may have a boss, and it helps to understand them. What motivates them? What might they be going through? What will mean the most to them?
If you don’t have a boss, you may have employees. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be in a better position if you were able to empathize with your employees. By better understanding them, you can get better results out of them.
Heck, let’s move this away from work. There is incredible benefit in better understanding a love interest, or a friend, or a family member. There is benefit in understanding the cashier, the waiter, even the guy who cut you off in traffic.
The great thing is that we’re all capable of some level of empathy. It’s that old adage of “putting yourself in their shoes.” But this is where there is varying levels of what I consider to be a talent. We’re not all great at putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We often view the world exclusively from our own perspective – which is another reason I consider strong empathy a talent. If you are able to “step in to” somebody else’s perspective and really try to understand why they do what they do, and why they think what they think, and why they feel what they feel, then you’ve really got something special.
So, if you really want to perfect a talent, I’d work on empathy. Take opportunities to really try to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Really try to imagine that you are experiencing exactly what they’re experiencing, then ask yourself how you would feel/react in that situation. This does take a strong imagination. I think you’ll find that by working on your empathy, you’ll really see the effects in your life.