Most people think empathy is a trait—you have it or you don’t. Meaning, if you find empathy too hard, there’s nothing you can do. But empathy is a skill that anyone can get better at, says Jamil Zaki, a Stanford psychologist and one of America’s pre-eminent speakers on empathy. At a time when the world is empirically less empathetic—when tribalism, social isolation, and other factors drive us apart—this is insight worth acting on. In touching, funny, and deeply researched keynotes, Zaki offers an exciting new take on empathy: how to make our workplaces, our homes, our world, more empathetic.
“It matters that we realized empathy is a skill that can be developed. When people think they can’t get better at something, they shy away from challenges. When they think they can grow, they open up instead.”— Jamil Zaki
As Director of the Social Neuroscience Lab, at Stanford University, Jamil Zaki has earned a reputation as one of the most sensible, forward-thinking, and requested speakers on empathy in the world. With palpable warmth and straightforward exercises that can be swiftly implemented, he shows keynote audiences how empathy in action can change our professional, creative, and personal relationships—and how we can get better at it, and be open to it, every day of our lives.
Empathic people are better at work, he says, especially when the jobs involve contact with other people—such as managers, salespeople, healthcare staff, anyone who works in a team. But empathy is on the decline, not just at work, but throughout society. Study after study shows that our collective empathy has eroded. “Compassion collapse,” as he calls it—limitations on the human ability to empathize for groups of people who we don’t easily identify with. “Being a psychologist studying empathy today can feel like a climatologist studying the polar icecaps,” says Zaki in his much-praised TED talk. “We discover the value of something just as it disappears all around us.” But our ability to reclaim a sense of connection is within reach. We can hack our sense of empathy, he argues. To Zaki, this also means acknowledging the good—like the “kindness contagion,” which his current research shows we are all responsive too: seeing others enact kindness, which spurs a cascading and unifying effect in communities of any size and stripe.
Jamil Zaki’s highly-anticipated book, The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, will be released by Crown in the summer 2019. At Stanford, where he is also a an assistant professor of psychology, Zaki’s unique work spans a number of domains, including social influence, prosocial behavior, and especially empathy. New research from his lab examines how to encourage empathy for people from distant political and ethnic groups, and also how caregivers and healthcare professionals can effectively empathize with their patients while maintaining their own wellbeing. Zaki received his BA from Boston University, his Ph.D. from Columbia University, and postdoctoral training at Harvard University.
A New View on Empathy How to Hack Our Ability to Understand Others at Work and in Life