Elephant Education

Learning everyday empathy at work from elephants

August 12 marked International Elephant’s Day. And while the old saying goes that an elephant never forgets, did you know that elephants can empathise too? As a herd, they are animals that show tremendous concern for one another – studies have shown them to actively use a unique, distinct sound, and a caressing trunk motion to naturally show understanding when they see another elephant in distress. Often considered one of the world’s most empathic species, they make responding to the emotions and need of others a natural imperative. A set of skills that we could all undoubtedly be learning from as we navigate the tsunami year that is 2020.

As we continue to work through the rollercoaster we find ourselves on, the practice of empathy for others is arguably our most critical skill towards recovery. The good news? However empathetic you feel you may be naturally, science has shown that the only thing between talking about being more empathetic and being empathetic is the decision to do so. Empathy is a skill so deeply embedded into our physiology that due to the neuroplasticity of our brains, research has shown that simply the decision to be more empathetic will lead you directly to be more empathetic. 

But whilst it may come naturally to the socially-alert elephants that share our planet, how can we become as empathetic towards one another in our working life as they are?

Firstly, practice live listening – how often do you find yourself listening but not taking note of what the other person is saying? Your body may have been in the same room, but your attention is elsewhere. The first key to driving a deeper empathetic connection is to ensure that when you listen, you listen to truly hear. 

Secondly, focus on those around you – we know that when people feel understood, stress levels are lower, immunity is, therefore, higher and our perceived safety and security goes up. Understanding the perspective of another not only helps you to gain clarity and context, but it creates confidence and calm in those you are connecting with. We need this more than ever right now.

Finally, be curious – enquiry drives connection. Start conversations and provoke sharing by asking questions to deepen your understanding of those around you. Encourage others to share more than their initial response by prompting them to know you are interested in hearing more

And if you think you’re hearing the word empathy everywhere right now, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists all over the world, and there is a good reason for it. 2020 may just turn out to be the year of empathy. For all of us. 

Mimi Nicklin is an author and renowned empathetic influencer based in Dubai. Find out more at miminicklin.com