Jennifer Howell talking with another woman about self awareness and empathy

You Can’t Have Self-Awareness Without Empathy for Yourself

Jennifer Howell, CEO of Spark EQ and leadership consultant, continues this month’s conversation on self-awareness and emotional intelligence. She stresses the importance of empathy, not only for others but also for yourself.

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You can listen to this conversation with Jennifer on our podcast, Work, Love, Pray! Listen below or click here to find your preferred listening platform.

That’s a really good question. For a long time, I don’t think I knew the difference, especially growing up. There is a great TED Talk video by Brene Brown where she articulates the difference. Empathy is a builder of connection, and sympathy takes away that connection. The way I like to think about it is if I truly have empathy for someone, it’s almost like I’m jumping inside the person’s brain and viewing the world from their perspective and see what makes them happy, what causes stress, and what their motivations and their feelings really are in a situation.

Absolutely. In fact, I think it’s essential to have empathy if you want self-awareness. When we get really good at noticing where we need to grow, or what we need to change, or how we screwed up, we have to have empathy for ourselves in the form of kindness and compassion. If we are trying to be perfect, we aren’t having empathy for ourselves. Having empathy for yourself will also make your empathy toward others so much stronger, and the person you show empathy to will absolutely see how much more genuine your expressed empathy is.

I consider myself a highly empathic person. I’ve been empathetic since I was a child! Even though I understand the importance of empathy, in the workplace…I sometimes forget to be empathetic. One particular time that I was not as empathic at work as I should have been is still a really big lesson for me that I continue to learn from. I was working for a large consulting firm and I was in charge of redoing and revamping our website. I very much needed to lean on the team’s digital creative expert. He and I were in meetings together and heard all of the expectations, the deadlines, what we needed to do, and what the next steps were.

My role in this project was primarily project management and project initiative, so I would frequently send my colleague emails asking for updates. And he ghosted me. He just started to disappear from the project, and it got me really frustrated. And then it hit me. I don’t know him. I’d seen him in company meetings, but we were not good friends. He was also a volunteer on this website project, and his day job was really working with our clients, not me.

Realizing I had not approached the situation empathetically, I walked over to his desk one day and told him that I had been remiss of getting to know you and had realized that I kept poking him to get information, but just really wanted to pause and get to know each other better.

When I had that conversation with him, I learned all sorts of things. I learned that he was stressed beyond belief, and that he had a lot of issues at home with his kids and his wife (which he didn’t have to tell me but I was so grateful he did.). I asked what he had hoped to achieve by volunteering for this website projects, and I found that he wanted to get promoted, to interact with other senior leaders in the organization.

After that conversation, we really started to bond and get to know each other. I asked how he wanted me to communicate with him throughout the project, and from that point on, he never ghosted me again. I could have like done this from the beginning of the project, but in my speed and stress of work, I forgot. So this continues to be a reminder to me that empathy has to come first at work. If I want to influence and encourage people, help them grow and reach their goals, and just be an effective leader, I have to remember that “connection first” is important.

Jennifer Howell headshot in a black top

Jennifer Howell, leadership consultant, speaker and executive coach, equips executives, leaders and teams to improve their performance, achieve their goals and strengthen emotional intelligence. Spark EQ provides executive and leadership coaching, team development, and workshop facilitation.

Jennifer partners with courageous leaders to help them not only succeed, but thrive at work. Spark EQ’s clients have experienced dramatic business growth, elevated team performance, career promotions and leadership readiness. Jennifer integrates proven business strategies with first-hand expertise that she developed over 25 years working for and with early-stage, growth and Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture, State Street Corporation, Bank of America and the American Heart

Association. Jennifer built masterminds for Fortune 500 executives, facilitated an award-winning mentor program for 180 professionals and raised millions for charitable causes.

Influence Digest named Jennifer a Top 20 Executive Coach in Dallas, TX and a Top 15 Coach in Dallas, TX. Her thought leadership has been profiled in Forbes, Fortune’s Broadsheet, Everyday Health, and two books for professional women, to name a few.