This important EI factor is defined as our ability to be aware of and understand how others feel. It is being sensitive to what, how and why people feel the way they do. Being empathetic is being able to “emotionally read” other people, which is the ability to pick up emotional cues. Empathetic people care about other people and show interest in them and concern for them; they are able to express warmth and affection to others. This EI factor is central to, what is referred to as, “social-awareness” and to be a dependable, responsible and loyal group member. It entails putting the interests of others ahead of self when necessary and being a cooperative, contributing and trustworthy team player. For leaders, this entails taking and delegating responsibility which means leading by example within the team and in the organization as a whole.
This factor is another extremely important component that has surfaced in most models that have attempted to describe emotional and social intelligence over the years. Our ability to be aware of and understand others is, first and foremost, dependent on our ability to be aware of and understand ourselves. Empathy, emotional self-awareness and emotional-self expression (assertiveness) represent the essential foundations and building blocks of the EI construct; and these factors, especially empathy, are fundamental for people involved in the helping professions such as social workers, psychologists and physicians. Without empathy, it would be nearly impossible for individuals to function in these specific professions.
Research findings have shown that the lack of empathy represents an important factor in aggressive, antisocial and psychopathic behavior, which is important for diagnostic and remedial applicability. Serious deficiencies in empathy are typically found in sociopaths, rapists and murderers who show little concern for their victims.
On the other end of the continuum, individuals who are overly empathetic are often considered to be weak managers and leaders, especially when it comes to the need to be critical of and reprimand employees for unacceptable behavior and to make difficult decisions such as dismissing people when need be.