Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is temporarily stepping into their situation and attempting to think, feel and experience what another is feeling. It is related to but not the same as sympathy which is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Empathy can be learned. It starts with becoming mindful but is built on a curiosity to consider an alternate viewpoint. You listen and become available without needing to solve a problem. You suspend judgement. Comfort is offered. It can be a spiritual experience. Empathy is an essential life skill and habit.
As a parent, you may wonder “what is the crying baby feeling?” or “why is my teen moody?” It’s important as a volunteer and as a manager. It is an important skill in any role and a wonderful way to build closer relationships. Empathy is easier if you have a similar experience. I know what it’s like to lose a parent but not a child. I know what it’s like to be a dad but not a mom. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to better understand.
Empathy is one of those life skills that can change the world. Imagine stepping into the shoes of a migrant worker, or someone in a wheelchair, or someone from the other political party. Our judging mind tends to exclude others who are not like us. What if we shifted our mindset to one of understanding?
This blog was inspired by my recent reading of the book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric.
When writing on the topic of mentoring I am usually focused on its importance in helping other people. This blog focuses on what it can do for each of us…not to be selfish but to embrace that service is a two-way street. It is one of those foundational, but higher-level, life skills that we can use every day in any relationship.
To be a good mentor, you must learn essential life skills:
- Active listening and asking powerful open-ended questions.
- Empathy, putting yourself in another’s situation.
- Encouragement, leading to persistence and resilience.
- Affirmations, helping another see something good in themselves.
- Visioning, seeing and planning a bold future.
- Goal setting and action planning, getting something important done every day.
Mentors see life as a process of development. It starts with an orientation toward serving and supporting someone else. It emerges from an emotion of care or love. If you are a mentor then you have a “heart to serve”. I’m sure you want to be good at it. Try going deeper and thinking of it as an accumulation of skills, each of which is important in its own way. Once you learn them you can apply them in everyday situations toward those you care about.
Mentoring is about inspiration, care and support of another but it transforms us too at many levels…heart, mind, body and soul. It is a skill worth mastering to improve our own capacity for purpose and knowing ourselves deeply. Consider taking on a formal mentoring role because “we grow as we serve”.
Why should you spend time discerning (uncovering, understanding, practicing) your Purpose? Why write a Purpose statement? I can think of several reasons:
- Purpose develops a deeper sense of worth. We know who we are deeply including values, strengths, beliefs and needs. This results in confidence because it’s less about “image”. We use this knowledge to pursue more aligned jobs and life roles.
- Purpose makes it easier to choose how we use our time, make decisions and allow people to enter our lives. We learn what is essential in life to thrive, be fulfilled and feel good about ourselves.
- Purpose deepens our connectedness to our Creator, creation and friends and family. Our relationships change.
- Purpose provides a buffer against “losses”. If we lose a job we know that “our job is not our life”. If we lose a life role, e.g. friend, we know that our many other life roles are being pursued.
Understanding the WHY of our lives is essential and worthwhile. Generally, why are you alive? Specifically, why did we pick this friend, this job, this place to live or this activity? Ultimately, choices are an expression of yourself and a reflection of heart, mind, body and soul needs.
More personally, this effort must be called a transformation. My pursuit of a purpose statement took over a year until the final words emerged. The “mining for gold” of my life is still in progress but continual discovery of new gold nuggets continues to thrill me.
Volunteers become better people (my belief) but I want to explore this more deeply for those who already have a job. Should we make time for another commitment when we are already overly busy with family and work? This is written in the context of individually choosing to serve others rather than a company-led initiative.
Volunteerism leads to:
- New skills and experiences. Seek to create a resume-building volunteer experience as it can be a signal of character. It is opportunity to gain new soft and hard skills, practice existing skills in new ways, and learn more about complex issues like poverty or the environment. You can also develop character qualities such as empathy and compassion.
- New relationships. Increase your professional and social networks by meeting new people including staff, clients and other volunteers. There is a strong relationship between volunteering and the development of social and human capital.
- Balance. It is easy to get trapped into the daily demands of a job. Volunteering is a strategic choice to find a (new) balance across heart, mind, body and soul. It can be a source of satisfaction, fulfillment and meaning or simply a relaxing diversion.
- Perspective change. You can increase job satisfaction, attitude and morale because you return to your job and company with new ideas and attitudes.
Do you want to help your community or the world? Do you want to build your own skills and establish new relationships? Consider sharing your time and talents with others.
Purposeful mentoring requires the development of caring yet influential relationships. The influential part is about creating a receptivity on the part of the mentee to listen and adopt a growth attitude not about pushing your viewpoint. This only occurs when a foundation of care, trust and respect is built. We cannot change others, we can only change ourselves.
Here are some skills mentors need to establish these relationships.
- Ask Good Open-Ended Questions. Closed questions end with a “yes or no”. Open-ended questions, especially tough ones, require deeper thought and provide the opportunity to explore points-of-view.
- Listen Actively. The listener makes sure the talker knows that the words AND meaning of the words are clear. The conversation is two-way and has some balance.
- Affirm. Find ways to say insightful, positive things and say these much more frequently (10:1) than offering criticism. This allows the mentee to truly see the good and worth in themselves.
- Constructive Criticism. The word “constructive” is key in that there must be a pathway to see how to do something differently.
- Role Model. Let the mentee see values in action. “Do as I do not just as I say.”
- Be Available. Show up as planned with a frequency that works for both and be fully “in the moment” when together.
While my thoughts have been directed on how a mentor influences a mentee, remember that relationships are two-way. It’s a matter of choice and attitude to personally learn too. Be flexible.
If you follow me via the Life Solutions Network Newsletter, you might recall that I shared a Live with Purpose Roadmap. Purposeful mentoring is framed by three themes, all of which have been regular blog topics:
Purposeful mentoring is the simple inclusion of these topics in our day-to day conversation as well as in a formal role (which is even better). These topics require critical life skills and behaviors, for example:
- Asking open-ended questions such as “what personal values helped you make that difficult decision”?
- Using active listening to support someone with empathy.
- Sharing a special book or internet article to prompt critical thinking.
- Suggesting the development of a personal vision, career plan or long-term budget.
- Sending a personal note of encouragement and support.
- Using language of hope and encouragement….Zapping, not Sapping.
Yes, purposeful mentoring might be expected in a formal role but the power of parents, friends, siblings and managers has the advantage of special (influential) relationships. I am not discouraging the formal roles. It works best in a long-term formal mentoring role because of the amount of time that is dedicated and that training and support is offered. Instead, I dream to make it more common. We should encourage the “deeper conversations” in everyday life and leverage teachable moments.
Writing your Life Purpose statement is the centerpiece of your Life Plan. When you write your thoughts and choice of words get clear.
Here is a simple purpose statement formula: I will use my VALUES/ STRENGTHS/ GIFTS to EXPRESS MYSELF (and interact with others).
An example: “I will use my creativity, compassion and empathy to help others see the greatness within themselves.” Eventually, you might want to have a short version too, e.g. “Discovering greatness”.
Start by getting key words on paper. The sentence(s) can come later. Let each word have a special meaning that describes who you are. Seek timeless ideas, not goals.
I don’t think it’s possible to get your purpose statement 100% right in a day. You have to “test drive” it. To check whether you’re on the right track, consider the following:
- Are you thinking beyond yourself? Purpose is about who you are and how expressing yourself makes the world a better place.
- Does it fit all or most of your life roles? Notice how the above example can work as a parent, coworker or friend.
- Do the words touch your “heart, mind, body and soul? You will want to share your purpose with others in words or deeds.
There are many ways to write a Purpose statement. My 250 words are meant to tease you to take action. Consider reading The On-Purpose Person or The Power of Purpose. Here is a good article.