#SoftSkillsSpotlight: 3 Lessons Oprah Winfrey Teaches Us About Empathy
When we think of Oprah Winfrey, we think of her emotional celebrity interviews, her extensive involvement with several charities (including her own) and an audience giveaway or two – “you get a car, you get a car! Everybody gets a car!” From hosting her own talk show for over 25 years to launching several ventures under the Oprah brand, including Harpo Productions, O Magazine and The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Oprah has become a household name and cultural icon. Aside from her being one of the most powerful people in the world, she is also the owner of five dogs, which puts her pretty high up in our books.
Underlying Oprah’s business strategy, interactions and strong personal brand is empathy. Known for her ability to connect with her audience, fans and talk shows guests, this soft skill is the cornerstone of her career success and personal brand.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the experiences and feelings of another person. While empathy is essential to maintaining personal relationships and our everyday interactions, empathy is also a critical soft skill in the workplace environment, with the ability to improve your leadership skills and relationships with your colleagues and clients.
Everyone wants to be Oprah or be friends with her – either way, we could all learn a thing or two from her. Here are 3 lessons Oprah Winfrey teaches us about empathy.
1) Empathy is an Outcome of Adversity and Resilience
“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me”.
Oprah overcame a difficult childhood riddled with abuse and family troubles, demonstrating resilience as she bounced back with determination and a strong desire to help others. Oprah credits the adversity she faced in her early life for her empathy towards others, teaching us that no matter what struggles you face, your ability to overcome adversity helps you to relate to others who may be experiencing similar difficulties.
Applying this empathy to your personal life and the workplace will help you improve your relationships and communication with others. As leaders and colleagues, our personal and career-related struggles can be used to create better teams and more supportive organizational culture.
2) Empathy is Essential to Building Relationships
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives”.
One of the reasons for Oprah’s talk show success was her “rapport-talk” style that acted as a conversation between her and the audience. By using a style that deviated from the previous talk show format, Oprah was able to successfully bond with her audience, specifically with her female audience members. Oprah was able to foster this connection with empathetic body language, active listening and open-mindedness toward individuals of diverse backgrounds and points of view.
Every day in the workplace we are interacting with those around us – whether we are leading a team, working with colleagues on a new project or attending a networking event. At the heart of these everyday interactions is relationship building and connecting with others. By practising empathy, you can improve communication and be able to build and maintain the relationships at the center of your professional and personal life.
3) Authenticity and Caring for Others is Central to Your Personal Brand
“Let excellence be your brand … When you are excellent, you become unforgettable. Doing the right thing, even when nobody knows you’re doing the right thing will always bring the right thing to you.”
Oprah’s empathy not only helped her foster a connection between herself and her audience, but this ability to relate to others became an integral part of her personal brand. With one of the strongest personal brands (when have you ever had to explain to someone who Oprah is?), her empathy became one of her most well-known traits and formed the basis of her multiple ventures, which were largely centered around helping others achieve happiness and wellbeing.
Because you are your personal brand and your personal brand represents you, caring for others in an authentic way is crucial to your interactions and forming relationships with others. Sharing and feeling the experiences of others will help you better communicate and build a positive brand image in a genuine way.
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While Oprah may have taught you a lot about your favourite celebrities, personal health and mental wellbeing, some of the most valuable lessons we can learn from Oprah come from her ability to relate to and connect with others. By integrating these 3 lessons about empathy into your personal and professional interactions, you will be better equipped to develop your soft skills in the workplace and improve your relationships with your colleagues, clients, friends and yourself. Plus, you’ll be one step closer to being Oprah, which isn’t so bad.