How important is it for professionals to have empathy?

Theodore was watching his favorite act, the high wire, from the grandstand at circus in the early 1900s.
Theodore was fascinated by more than the physical skills of the acrobats. He was also intrigued by their steely nerves.
He was fascinated at the way he felt watching them. His body began to tense. His insides became frozen. His heart rate rose.
Why? He was just watching others perform!
Later, he said that he felt inside the circus performer when observing him on a wire.
This experience led Theodore Lipps (German psychologist and philosopher) to explore the concept “Einfuhlung” (German: roughly translated as empathy).
His experience with circus performers on high wires reveals the essence of empathy: psychologically identifying and empathizing with the feelings and experiences of another person.
Research shows that empathy is crucial but often absent in professional environments. It is rarely discussed, much less considered, as a part of a project manager’s skill set.
We can improve our workplaces by understanding the importance and practice of empathy.
What is empathy?
If you asked several people what “empathy” means, they’d likely use the word “sympathy”.
Even dictionary definitions can mix the two words.
Sym*pa*thy /’[email protected]/ — understanding between people; common feeling
Em*pa*thy/’[email protected]/ – The ability to understand and share feelings of another.
Both sound the same and can be used interchangeably.
However, empathy and sympathy are very different at a deeper level. Empathy is defined as “in” by the Greek prefix em. The Greek prefix sun, which you see on the word empathy, means “with.” Both words contain the Greek root pathos, which means “feeling”.
Empathy is simply a shared experience with another person. Sympathy, on the other hand, is a feeling that someone feels compassion for you.
Or, put another way…
Sympathy is more common than pity.
Empathy is more common than imitation.
However, the difference is not just etymological. Empathy is really about how our bodies respond to stimuli at a neurological level.
Empathy is when the body experiences empathy. This activates our mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are activated by movement and thinking about or seeing someone else move.
If you see someone on a basketball court leap into the air and make a three-pointer from the basket, your body’s mirror neurons will be activated in the same way as the player’s neurons. You may fold your arms unconsciously if you are sitting next to someone who is having a conversation.
The American Psychological Association article “The Mind’s Mirror” explains how this neurological phenomenon can be applied to empathy.
Although the concept may seem simple, its implications can be profound. Over the past decade, more research has suggested that mirror neurons might help explain not only empathy, but also autism and even the evolution of language.Psychologists Tanya Chartrand (now at Duke University) and John Barge (now at Yale University) coined the phrase “the chameleon effect” to describe our imitative empathetic responses. They discovered that empathetic people imitate the facial expressions and mannerisms of others without conscious awareness. Laurie Carr and her colleagues discovered that intentionally imitating facial expressions of others increases their mirror neuron activation, compared to just observing them. In fact, empathy is a natural phenomenon that occurs from infancy.