“Want the secret to getting what you want in life?” It’s a question posed by every online life coach, fad diet, and late-night infomercial. However, the solution I have for getting what you want in life is not a product or a diet. It may be as simple as kindness and it starts with empathy.
In my latest book, “Mean People Suck: How Empathy Can Lead to Bigger Profits and Better Lives for Everyone,” I examine how cultivating empathy for others can change our lives personally and professionally.
It may seem counterintuitive, but research indicates that human beings are not born with empathy. Cambridge researcher Dr. Varum Warrier found that it is a learned trait; we develop empathy throughout our lives. In my experience, it is the key ingredient to living a happy, successful life.
Genuine empathy creates loyalty and dependability. Dependability is crucial for fostering trust among co-workers, spouses, friends—it’s the glue that holds us together and keeps our life and our work environments less chaotic.
No one wants to be the one who sucks, with a chaotic personal life and work environment. Here are five simple ways you can use empathy to take control of your life:
1. Learn to listen
Perhaps Steven R Covey said it best in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” he explained.
Listening to others in today’s world is difficult. We’re all distracted by what’s going on around us — our phone buzzing, the 129 emails in our inbox, our friend’s updates on Facebook or Snapchat. We have so many opportunities to look away when someone is talking.
However, when people put aside their agendas and try to understand whether another person is coming from, it can be a rewarding experience. My guess is that you will most likely be surprised at what you learn. Think about how much damage managers who don’t listen can cause, or spouses who have grown tired of their partners’ concerns.
To avoid making the same mistake, it helps to leave ourselves open to constructive criticism and feedback. While not every idea is worth taking, we won’t have the chance to learn if we don’t listen.
2. Try being kind
At work and home, it is no secret that our lives have become toxic, and kindness seems to be in short supply. Recall the number of times you witnessed or experienced inappropriate behavior at work and how often it occurs.
My guess is that you can identify at least one incident, probably more. While empathy is about much more than being kind, it never hurts to follow the golden rule to treat others as you would like to be treated.
Acts of kindness can go a long way. It doesn’t take much effort at all. We may be surprised by how far a simple “good morning” and a sincere “how are you?” can take us.
3. Don’t take it personally
In Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, the second piece of advice he offers is not to take anything personally. “Nothing other people do is because of you,” Ruiz says. “It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.”
This is something I encourage loved ones and colleagues to incorporate into their lives as well. It’s common in today’s world to see viral stories about lousy customer service, especially when it comes to airlines.
I tend not to complain about airlines, despite how much I travel and how often I’ve experienced delays that keep me from my family and the lost bags. I’ve found that in most cases, negative customer experiences are caused by an employee having a bad day. Consider a time when they had a bad day and felt guilty later about how they handled a personal interaction.
The next time you have a frustrating experience with a boss, co-worker, friend, or family member, try taking the empathetic approach. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Don’t take it personally and consider that the other person might be having a bad day.
4. Remember the good times
I did not love many of the 53 jobs I’ve held and I bet you have had career experiences hated as well. However, it is important to remember that even in a bad situation, something good came out of it.
We spend so much of our time at work that, even if we hate our jobs, we are bound to share laughs and experience our share of memorable moments with other employees. That’s true at every job I’ve hated.
By shifting our focus from dwelling on the negative to appreciating the positive, it changes our mindset. With that, we become more receptive to positive experiences. Sometimes that’s just the thing needed to help us feel better.
5. Find meaning in what we do
Many of us find ourselves in careers because we have a skill set that is valuable in the job market. As research indicates and I’ve experienced firsthand, it doesn’t necessarily suggest that we find meaning in our roles.
We all want to feel invested in a larger purpose—to enjoy our jobs, create value, and make an impact. If you can’t find that larger purpose in the work itself, you might find it in working together with your teammates or colleagues.
This advice is vital for employees and managers alike. Studies show that customers can sense when employees are passionate about their work or are merely going through the motions. Not only will customers be able to tell if employees don’t see meaning in their work, but it can hurt the overall office culture.
Even if you don’t particularly like your current role, focus on your bigger goals to shift your mindset.
Purpose doesn’t have to always depend on our passion. No job is perfect in every way; there’s always going to be some level of drudgery. By asking ourselves what kind of person we want to be, we can see through the monotony and, in turn, find meaning in our work.
Be kind. Be cool. Be you.
With an empathetic approach in the workplace and at home, we can take control of our lives and help enrich the lives of others around us. Not only will we feel better, but our businesses will flourish as a result.
I advise people to make a choice. Make a choice to not be unhappy, unfulfilled, disengaged, and focus on others. Apply empathy where it matters most.