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The Empathy Theme: How You Can Productively Aim Your CliftonStrengths Talent

The Empathy Theme: How You Can Productively Aim Your CliftonStrengths Talent

by Albert L. Winseman, D.Min.

Gallup StrengthsFinder Empathy definition: People exceptionally talented in the Empathy theme can sense other people's feelings by imagining themselves in others' lives or situations.

In the first "Star Wars" film (Episode IV A New Hope), Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi instructs his young protégé, Luke Skywalker, in his Jedi training, saying, "Trust your feelings, Luke." Individuals with Empathy among their Signature Themes resonate with that scene because each and every day they trust their feelings. They see and experience the power of the emotional side of life, and not only are in tune with their own feelings but also have an uncanny ability to physically feel the emotions of others.

When those around them are sad, they sense the sadness. When those around them are joyful, they experience their joy. They intuitively pick up on the nonverbal, subtle emotional cues that others give out. Individuals strong in Empathy talents bring emotional intelligence to a team, and because they are emotional people, they need the freedom to cry, laugh and vent. People with high Empathy often can tell you how you are feeling -- in an eerily accurate way -- even before you yourself know.

Empathy: Helps and Hinders

When you coach those with Empathy in their Top 5, helping them claim both the "helps" and the "hinders" of the theme is critical to productive aiming. Some common helps and hinders of those with Empathy as a strength include:


  • You have a way of hearing emotions without words -- and as such, you can tend to others' emotional needs while they are still manageable, before they get blown out of proportion.
  • You have an innate sense of when feelings need to be addressed and instinctively know what questions to ask to get others to open up. Trust your intuition; follow your instincts in such situations.
  • Your attention to others' feelings -- and your ability to anticipate how certain decisions will make them feel -- make you a valuable asset to your team as you assess the potential reactions to policies, processes and procedures you must implement.
  • As a team leader, you bring caring, concern and understanding to your team members, making them feel valued, respected and appreciated.


  • Experiencing others' emotions can be draining. Know when you need to take a break, find some "alone time" and recharge.
  • If you lead a team, you may tend to put off delivering bad news or having difficult performance conversations for fear of the possible emotional reaction. In times that call for such candor, use your Empathy to find the most compassionate and helpful way to have these necessary conversations. People will appreciate your honesty and caring.
  • You might worry about how others will feel about decisions you make, and so, when facing such decisions, you might procrastinate. Don't let your Empathy paralyze you; use it to make good decisions that take into account others' feelings -- and devise a response to any potentially negative reactions.
  • Sometimes your Empathy can take the form of sympathy, which by itself is not bad. But if sympathy keeps you from making a difficult decision -- or makes you put off the inevitable -- leverage the other side of your Empathy: How will others feel if you don't make the hard decisions that come with leadership?

Empathy: Self-Awareness, Self-Expression, Self-Regulation

In order to productively aim Empathy -- or any -- talents at a particular goal, an individual must have: 1) self-awareness about the theme's power, edge and vulnerabilities; 2) an understanding of how the theme finds expression in day-to-day thinking, feeling and behaving; and 3) knowledge of how to regulate the theme to maximize the potential positive outcomes that can be realized through intentionally applying a strengths-based approach. Coaches can help clients with strong Empathy talents by exploring the following:


  • The Power and Edge of Empathy: Those with Empathy among their Signature Themes are able to build and nurture relationships that have great emotional depth. Those with strong Empathy help those in their presence to feel understood.
  • The Vulnerabilities of Empathy: With their focus on the emotional and emotive side of life, those with strong Empathy talents may be impractical and less swayed by rational arguments. This can lead others to see them as unrealistic and too emotional.


Coaches can assist clients in realizing and claiming the expression of Empathy by helping them explore instances in the past when this theme was particularly useful. To facilitate this exploration, coaches can ask the following questions:

  • What makes a great day for you?
  • How do you respond when you notice a colleague or a customer having a bad experience?
  • What has been your greatest success -- at work or in your personal life? How did your Empathy talents contribute to that success?
  • When have you recently helped someone get in touch with their feelings -- and what was the result?


Self-Regulation occurs when individuals know which of their talents to use in particular situations, or know which talents to combine to either amplify or accelerate a specific talent, or to soften or moderate that talent. For example, sometimes those with strong Empathy talents can get so caught up in the emotions of the moment that they lose sight of the desired outcomes of a project, allowing themselves and their teams to get sidetracked and lose momentum. In situations like this, a coach can help the client find other talents that might yield better results. Also, coaches can help clients explore different theme combinations. Below are some possible combinations that will either amplify or moderate Empathy:

Empathy: Five Powerful Questions for Productive Aiming

  • How do you know you are achieving the right outcomes -- and does your sensitivity to the emotions of others help or hinder you in getting to those outcomes?
  • Is there a potentially emotionally volatile situation at work, at home or in your community that could benefit from your ability not only to sense but to make sense of the feelings of others? How will you "sell" yourself so your help will be accepted and appreciated?
  • What are you most proud of in your life? How can you do more of what makes you proud?
  • How do you know when it is time to pull back from the emotions you experience in your daily encounters? What is your plan for self-care so you do not emotionally burn out, but are instead a consistent source of hope and encouragement to others?
  • What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now? What is your intuition telling you about the people you need to connect with to meet this challenge?

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Al Winseman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Futuristic, Maximizer, Strategic and Command.

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