A Swelled Sense of Empathy

A Swelled Sense of Empathy

On the last night of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities’ recent Allies Institute college retreat program, a student participant said that he was leaving the experience with“a swelled sense of empathy.”

Indeed, empathy is a critical skill developed through VCIC’s programs. By exploring the experiences of peers and colleagues from diverse races, genders, classes, and cultures in a safe and supportive environment, VCIC’s programs are helping individuals and groups work together effectively across lines of difference.

An article in the Wall Street Journal notes that teenagers are still developing skills of empathy.  The article states that “Children learn to practice empathy by watching their parents and by experiencing it themselves – being treated well by adults who respond warmly to their feelings.”  It goes on to suggest that perspective-taking develops through the age of 21.

That said, improved empathy skills are still needed in the workplace, too. A recent report from Christine M. Riordan, provost and a professor of management at the University of Kentucky, notes behaviors associated with empathetic listening and effective leadership.  These behaviors include recognition of nonverbal cues, processing what is being said, and responding effectively.  As Riordan notes, “Slowing down, engaging with other people rather than endlessly debating, taking the time to hear and learn from others, and asking brilliant questions – these are the keys to success.”

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