Susan Spinrad Esterly: Can Empathy Be Learned?

In today’s episode, we are going to go back to Empathy 101. With a wide range of experience as a licensed psychologist and advisor, today’s guest, Susan Spinrad Esterly, and I will be discussing Susan’s work with individuals, groups, and companies to achieve their highest level by bringing humanistic values, insights, and principles into consciousness. We explore the meaning we make of what happens in our lives and delve deep into what empathy actually means, how we define it, and why some people have more empathy than others. Never fear, though, because empathy can be taught and is a skill that we can all practice to strengthen individual empathy through one of the three access points we, as humans, have to empathy. 

Key Takeaways:

  • As a leader with an empathic stance, your mission is to find out how you can make the people you’re leading be their best, look their best, and do their best.
  • Empathy is a muscle that can strengthen. It may feel a little fake at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
  • Shared understanding, especially in the workplace, is worth its weight in gold. That shared understanding serves as the framework for empathy.

“When people feel heard, they feel less vulnerable and they feel like they can connect a little better. We all like to be heard, we all like to have a witness.” —  Susan Spinrad Esterly, Ph.D.

About Susan Spinrad Esterly, Ph.D.:

Susan Spinrad Esterly, Ph.D.

Psychologist and Advisor

Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, University of California Los Angeles

B.A., Human Biology, Stanford University

I grew up in a family that valued science, ideas, and intellect. My father was an accomplished computer scientist, high tech pioneer, and thought leader. He was Director of Xerox PARC during its heyday in the late ’70s and ’80s, and I witnessed close-hand the development of famously ground-breaking innovations in personal computing and technology. My own penchant for growth and invention started early. As a teenager, I co-created an overnight-success start-up with my mom and brother – selling Rock Woogies crafting kits to retailers in the Los Angeles area. I have come to realize that power of mind, so highly regarded by my family and certainly a key element of our essence, comprises only a part of our personal story – when we nurture and honor our mind, body, heart, and creative spirit altogether we open the floodgates to our full life force.

As a Licensed Psychologist and Advisor, I bring 30 years of wide-ranging experience to my work. I have been a clinical consultant, academic researcher, and instructor at Stanford University, UCLA, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I was Clinical Training Director for the Masters in Counseling Psychology Program at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. I am expert in and make frequent use of the Enneagram, a personality typology that is a powerful instrument for personal and leadership growth.

I offer individuals, working groups, and companies the tools to achieve their highest level by bringing humanistic values, insights, and principles into consciousness, elevating how we engage with one another, and exploring the meaning we make of what happens in our personal and work lives. I maintain a vibrant, varied private consulting practice in Palo Alto and I am a Leadership Coach at The Center for Excellence in Nonprofits. Additionally, I work pro bono for A Home Within, a nonprofit that provides free psychotherapy services to current and former foster youth, and I serve on the Board of the nonprofit Acknowledge Alliance, dedicated to providing social-emotional learning to students and educators in the SF Bay Area. 

I keep my right-brain in shape by creating and recording music with my long-time rock & roll bandmates, with whom I have been writing, singing and playing guitar since 1998. In 2019 I co-founded the record company, Magiscope Records. 


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