Is Empathy Helping or Hurting Your Career? by Judith Orloff M.D.

Share

Is Empathy Helping or Hurting Your Career?

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s New York Times Bestseller, Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Three Rivers Press, 2011)

When President Obama announced he was looking for a Supreme Court nominee who demonstrated empathy, it triggered a national conversation about empathy–and whether it’s a pro or con for a justice of the highest US court.

How about in the workplace? Is empathy an asset–or does it make you appear weak, indecisive, and vulnerable?

In the workplace, empathy has both an upside and a downside. People who are extremely empathic and sensitive need to be aware of both.


AM I AN EMPATH?

Take this self-assessment test from “Emotional Freedom” to see if you are a super-empathic person.

1. Have I been labeled by coworkers as "too emotional" or overly sensitive?YesNo
2. If a coworker is distraught, does it affect my mood at work?YesNo
3. Are my feelings easily hurt when a supervisor or peer delivers negative feedback?YesNo
4. Am I emotionally drained when I have to work closely with others, and do I require time alone to revive?YesNo
5. Do my nerves get frayed by office noise, machine noise, smells, or excessive talking?YesNo
6. Do I prefer working quietly and off by myself?YesNo
Do I overeat or need a happy hour cocktail to deal with work-related stress?YesNo
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re at least part empath. Responding yes to more than three indicates that you’re quite sensitive and empathic.


THE EMPATH’S UPSIDE AT WORK—FROM “EMOTIONAL FREEDOM

You are big-hearted, and big-hearted people are gifted helpers and mentors. Empaths are patient, kind, and compassionate–just what you need as a manager, trainer, or team leader.

You are passionate, and passionate people put their all into projects. Empathetic people are passionate about their beliefs and ideas. In creative roles, or as sales or marketing people, passion is a plus.

You are intuitive, and intutive people can read between the lines. Empaths often perceive gray areas in a discussion or sense unspoken tension in meetings. Their ability to read others’ feelings is a critical skill in negotiating and personnel management.

You are an emotionally responsive person, and that means you are a great communicator. Listening is an essential business skill, and those who are best at it are emotional empaths who have a well-developed ability to relate to others, and then interpret or build on what they see and hear.

You are “in touch” with your emotions, which means others can connect well with you. We most admire and best relate to people who are authentic. In other words, they show their emotions. In the business world, being “real” helps you build networks, earn the loyalty of others, win clients, and forge alliances.


THE EMPATH’S DOWNSIDE AT WORK

You’re an emotional sponge. Super empathetic people tend to pick up on others’ emotions. This can be detrimental when a cool-headed leader is needed, or when an objective perspective would yield a clearer decision.

You’re prone to anxiety, depression, and fatigue. If you’re always tuned in to coworkers’ feelings, it’s difficult to keep your nerves from getting frazzled. You need to be able to process emotions coming at you from all directions.

You may find it hard to work well with others. Empaths often need to work alone, and they seek solitude in order to regain their calm. Other’s may see you as antisocial.

You may be a victim of emotional vampires. Emotional vampires are people who suck the energy right out of you and leave you feeling drained and depleted. They may do this by being needy, talkative, cruel, or by running right over you. There are lots of different types of emotional vampires–and they’re naturally drawn to empaths like you.

If you are a super sensitive and empathetic person, be aware of the ways this wonderful trait serves you in the workplace. But be extra careful to protect your emotional and physical health, because empathetic people are, by definition, more vulnerable and open than their peers.