You can sense the emotions of those around you. You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own. People feel comfortable telling you their innermost thoughts and feelings. You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective or condone the choices they make, but you do understand. You yearn to be thought of affectionately by most people. You search for ways to fill their lives with joy. You might embody the proverb “still waters run deep” – that is, quiet people are profound thinkers.
Empathy was the second strength identified by the StrengthsFinder assessment I completed a while back. Again, it’s eerily correct. Ever since second grade when little Cathy A., the class outcast, attached herself to me, until the present day when someone at my workplace (who shall remain nameless) so regularly bends my ear about all kinds of personal problems that I’ve been tempted to hang up my shingle announcing “Psychiatrist 5 cents” , I’ve been a magnet for anyone who needs some empathetic understanding.
Sometimes, like the legendary sin-eaters, I feel satiated to the point of bursting with other peoples angst. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to control my heart which continues going out to anyone and everyone around me. I’ve been advised to grow a thicker skin, to turn a deafer ear, but somehow I can’t seem to put this advice into practice.
So how does this characteristic help/hinder me in terms of my professional life? It allows me to be aware of others perspectives, gives me a clearer idea of how they will react in a given situation. It also enables me to intuit what may happen before it becomes common knowledge. I’ve seen this played out at work with boring regularity recently, pertaining to some issues with personnel that have resulted in more than a few shake ups lately. But since I can see what’s about to happen in these situations, I also get worried and anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop. And because I care about the people involved, my empathetic nature fires up and sets my heartstrings fluttering.
I can also use empathy to help defuse potentially volatile situations and to assess people’s moods to ascertain how they might react. I think empathy helps me be a better judge of character, too, and allows me to envision how people fit into the workplace environment or don’t fit in, as the case may be.
While the StrengthsFinder assessments seem focused on workplace use, it’s interesting to think about one’s strengths in terms of family an romantic relationships, too. My husband probably appreciates my need to maintain harmony in our lives, and hopefully my empathetic eyes enhance my value in terms of our partnership. I’ll remind him of that the next time he turns all Analytical on me. Because even though he’s not taken the assessment, I’d be willing to bet that’s his top strength. And since I’m so perceptive about people, I’m probably right.