How good are you at reading other people’s emotions?
I thought I was pretty good at it—though my wife might be of a different mind on this—but I just found out I’m about average.
The New York Times has a fascinating test on its website that throws pictures at you of eyes, lots of eyes, and asks you to guess the mood of the person at the time the picture was taken.
There’s no overestimating how important a skill this is for each of us. How often do we use the skill in our relationships or our jobs when trying to decide whether to approach someone—a spouse/colleague/boss/child—with a difficult or important request? Everyday we call on these empathy skills in one way or another—and those of us who are less skilled in this area probably have less successful love relationships and are less successful on the job.
I know it’s a skill that children are notoriously bad at developing. My 11-year-old consistently astounds me with her cluelessness at recognizing the moods of the other people in the house when she launches into some ridiculous request or bit of drama. In fact, I think our dog Teddy is a more skilled reader of our moods, particularly those of my wife Denene, than is my little one.
I just pray that one day my daughter wakes up and realizes that the skill was sitting there all along, unused.
I find myself trying to bring this empathy skill to bear practically everyday in dealing with my teenage daughter, mainly because so often these days I get a blank stare from her where an engaging personality used to be. Should I try talking to her now or wait until later? Is she in a good mood or a bad one? Does it even matter when the likely result of my questions will be frustrating one-word answers?
Ah, the joy of the teenage child.
Anyway, if you think you happen to be an empathy bad ass and can read others’ moods like an open book, I invite you to go over to the Times and take the test. See if you can beat my score of 24 out of 36. Let us know if you are, indeed, the Empathy Champion.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.