Empathy is Not A Weakness

by Emma Baumgartel

As a college student, it is common to meet many headstrong and assertive students that are incredibly independent thinkers. Being a person who likes to empathize with others, I felt like empathy didn’t have as much of a place in this self motivated atmosphere where everyone lives by the motto “toughen up.” I started to internalize the notion that being sensitive to others and willing to listen somehow meant that I wasn’t focusing enough on my own success—that it would be better to disconnect and let my emotions and sensitivity fall to the wayside. But that empathy and emotional sensitivity was and always will be a part of me, and I have come to understand that it is actually a good thing.

As a psychology student, I have learned a lot of different things about human behavior and processes. After reading studies about empathy and relating the findings to my own life, I began to see how empathy is incrediblyuseful. Being able to understand another person is a strength and not a weakness. Empathy plays a huge role in friendships, romantic relationships, and even in highpressure situations such as negotiations. In relationships, being able to understand a partner and validating their emotions is the surest way to offer them emotional support, which in turn strengthens the relationship as a whole. In negotiations, understanding the goals of the person you are negotiating with can create rapport and result in a scenario that benefits both parties.

However, within a professional, sales driven environment, empathy is not considered a necessary tool for success—despite research showing the social benefits of having empathy. As I get closer to entering the workforce, I have also noticed that emotional intelligence and empathy never seem to be high on a list of employable skills, unlike “time management” or “complex problem solving.” Though empathy isn’t often mentioned as a key skill in the workplace, it is crucial for collaboration and communication and can result in better professional outcomes. The bottom line is this: empathy has a place wherever human connections are made and therefore should be encouraged.

Students, including myself, often hear that effective communication or forming working relationships is key in the workplace. But the truth is, without being able to relate on an emotional level, conversations will not be nearly as effective, and those human connections will be weaker. The ability to create authentic connections by relating to others is a huge strength… and it all comes from empathy.

Empathy is not an innate process. But according to psychologists studying empathy such as Jamil Zaki, empathy is a skill that can be learned—by police officers, doctors, even those with racist beliefs. Zaki explains that in today’s society where political or social divisions abound, a person can challenge their empathy skills by attempting to understand a person you disagree with. If you want to learn more about Jamil’s research on empathy, click this link to watch his TED Talk.

About Emma Baumgartel

Emma Baumgartel is an incoming senior at Lake Forest College in Illinois, majoring in Psychology with a minor in English Writing. Baumgartel previously attended Richwoods High School. She has always enjoyed writing—especially about current events and psychology—and believes in advocating for the truth. At Lake Forest, Emma was a writing tutor as well as an editor for Inter-text, LF’s social science journal. Next semester, Baumgartel plans on joining the college newspaper to gain more writing experience. After graduation, Emma is planning on continuing to submit articles to online publications, as well as a blog on Medium.com. She also hopes to land a professional content writing or marketing role.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Aryanne “Ary” Westfall is a sophomore at Bradley University majoring in Animation and minoring in Theatre Arts. She is pursuing a career as a storyboard artist and enjoys creating graphic novels in her free time. As a member of the Digital Art Team, Westfall spends her time connecting with other artists and creating as much as she can.