This Personality Trait Is Essential To A Successful Career — And So Much More
Michael Ventura cannot be typecast. He's the CEO of a successful creative agency and an Eastern medicine practitioner—an author, podcast host, and coach. But there's a current that unites his work in business and spirituality—two realms that are often pitted against each other, as clear as night and day.
For Ventura, many of the biggest problems facing humanity today—including an increased reliance on technology and subsequent disconnection and isolation from one another and the world at large—can be solved with a healthy dose of empathy.
The case for empathy.
"In the business world, a lot of people misconstrue empathy as being nice," Ventura tells mbg in a steady, soothing—dare I say, empathetic?—voice. "But empathy is a skill for perspective taking. It's when you learn to get out of your own bias enough to see the world from other perspectives and ultimately gain a deeper understanding that can inform your actions."
He gives Elon Musk as an example of an empath who isn't exactly known for his kind demeanor. Ventura's agency, Sub Rosa, has helped massive brands the likes of Nike, New Balance, and Delta solve problems using what he calls "applied empathy." The basis of his new book, Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership, applied empathy is a way to identify with many different types of people and use this newfound perspective to improve your business. This can result in everything from a new advertising campaign to a lifesaving development.
When Sub Rosa began working with General Electric to help them sell more mammogram machines, they started by trying to empathize with the women who had used the machines. Simply by asking questions, they walked away with fascinating insights. "Eighty-seven percent of the women told us they didn't get screened on a regular basis because they had a memory of pain—84 percent of them told us the room was freezing cold."
Without changing the machine at all—just making simple tweaks like turning up the room temperature and making screening gowns more comfortable—they were able to bring down the rate of complaints by 87 percent to the mid-40s. It's a powerful example of how more compassion could transform the health care industry. "And that wasn't the most astounding thing. The changes actually increased the effectiveness of the test by 12 percent. We were able to find 12 percent more cancer when women were warm and relaxed and comfortable, because their bodies were more loose and the tissue was more supple."
A balancing act.
Ventura has seen this healing power of empathy transcend the doctor's room. It's also a cornerstone of his spiritual work.
Inspired to set out on a spiritual journey in his mid-20s when stress and unhealthy habits led to three herniated discs in his back, Ventura now practices some combination of tai chi, qigong, meditation, prayer, and yin yoga every morning. He also administers a combination of Reiki, acupuncture, and breathwork to help others suffering from everything from low back pain to a general lack of direction. Every morning, he'll meet with one client for energy healing work, go to his office job, and see one more energy healing client in the evening.
After thinking of his work in the boardroom and healing room as separate entities for a while, he started to discover they were more alike than different. "I started to discover that it's the same job. It's just different forms: We might be using breath and touch to help you open up and release something you've been holding on to. Or we might be in a conference room using a presentation and research to help us move past an issue your organization is having. At the end of the day, the message has always been: Get quiet, be patient, listen with empathy, drop your own bias, get into that other perspective, and use it to solve a problem."
Empathy—for others, as well as the self—is always the crux of the work. "We have a whole series of compensation mechanisms we create in our bodies and our personalities that help us hide or otherwise ignore the root of our issues. Empathy plays a huge role in helping map where it all starts, so we can fix it."
So as we strive to give more empathy to others, we also need to remember to reserve some of it for ourselves. "If we don't have the ability to be a student of ourselves, we're going to have a hard time getting through life."
How to train yourself to be more empathetic.
OK, so empathy is a crucial ingredient for a meaningful, connected, soulful life—but how can we develop more of it?
"Empathy overall is absolutely trainable," explains Ventura. Like with any skill, it just takes practice. The next time you have a conversation with someone who has a different opinion, pay attention to where your personal biases lie. Resist the urge to plan how you're going to respond as the other person is speaking, and just listen to what they have to say without judgment. "True, real listening that's generous in nature is a skill to be developed," he recommends.
From there, Ventura recommends taking the time daily—either alone or with a team at work—to encourage perspective-taking and think about how other people may view an issue differently than you. "Once you learn to do that, you can drop into that state more often and use that as a tool for cultivating understanding."
As evidenced with mbg's official mantra, You. We. All., forging a deeper bond with one another, with our communities, and with the world around us, is the true cornerstone of health. In an age when we could all use a little more of this connection, empathy needs to be essential.
Learn more about how maintaining empathy for yourself is the key to success here.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.