I don’t know about you, but during this month of multiple holidays and celebrations, I often find myself swept up in a whirlwind of festivities, food, shopping, and family gatherings. Amidst the joyous chaos, it is easy for the month to feel like a blur and unintentionally overlook the things that are happening around me. In thinking about how to reduce the distractions and be more intentionally focused this year, oddly enough I found myself reflecting on the importance of empathy.
My mentor of many years shared with me a definition of empathy that has always stuck with me, empathy is the ability to think and feel into another person’s experience. It does not mean we have had the same experience as others, rather we can find something within ourselves that allows us to connect with the other person’s emotional experience. It is about relating and understanding with compassion without judgment or making the story about us.
During the holidays, when emotions can run high and stress levels can spike, empathy becomes an invaluable tool personally and professionally. It enables us to recognize the challenges and struggles that others may be facing, even when they are not explicitly expressed.
Identifying the challenges others may be facing and providing the support they need can, at times, feel like a great deal of work. HR professionals and business leaders are often asked to provide support to co-workers and colleagues. Yet, how can we offer empathy and compassion when our own care buckets are empty?
As I have learned more about the concept of self-care over the past few years, I have realized it is a form of self-empathy. Through some research, I learned that self-empathy (also called self-compassion) is the ability to understand and share your feelings, especially when you are experiencing difficulty. It is about treating yourself with kindness and understanding, rather than judgment and criticism.
The components of self-empathy include self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness means treating yourself with the same gentleness and care that you would show to a friend. It means being accepting of yourself and not beating yourself up for your mistakes. Common humanity is recognizing that everyone experiences challenges and setbacks in life. It is not something that you are alone in, and it does not make you a failure. Mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It means accepting your emotions for what they are, without getting caught up in them or trying to change them.
Empathy and self-empathy are more than feel-good sentiments; they have a real impact on our relationships, workplaces, and communities. I think as individuals, we are often hardest on ourselves. While these realizations have helped me grow, I am by no means an expert on empathy. My hope is by sharing these thoughts they may be helpful to others striving to offer empathy to people in their lives or to themselves. By practicing empathy during the holiday season, I believe we can create more connected, supportive, and compassionate workplaces.
Maya Angelou once said, “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time and attention.” Now, I would modify her thoughtful insight slightly to say that the greatest gift you can give yourself or someone else is your time and attention.
For everyone in the LSHRM community, I hope you find the time for yourself and others this holiday season. Please know you are not alone, you are more than your mistakes, and you are valued.
Regardless of the holiday you celebrate, I hope it is joyous and filled with love. I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season! I look forward to seeing you at our holiday breakfast on December 12th!