Empathy 101

Are you empathetic? That is a question I have had to ask myself lately. I have been studying this quality called empathy and have been challenged to work on improving this competency in myself.

Here are several definitions of empathy:

“A motivation oriented towards the other” – Daniel Batson

“To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person” – R. R. Greenson

So empathy is to feel what another person feels and to be able to express that emotion yourself. This is a competency that when developed helps you to tune into the other person’s thoughts and feelings. The basic ability to recognize emotions is for most people something you learn as a child. It is almost an unconscious thing you do. Yet it is something that you can improve at and learn to increase accuracy and intensity.

Most people are more able and willing to empathize with people they like or know well. We tend to empathize best with the people closest to us. The more contact we have with someone the more likely we will be in tune with their emotions, unless of course we are not developing this competency.

Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is more about feelings and sympathy is more about actions. You sympathize when you express how sorry or happy you are for them. If you are a highly empathetic person, you are most likely also sympathetic, but a person that is sympathetic and not empathetic can come across as shallow and will not connect emotionally. Their actions or words comes across as more of a conditioned response than a compassionate understanding.

Empathy has some benefits:

  • Empathy connects people together – you are more drawn to someone empathetic.
  • Empathy heals
  • Empathy builds trust

So how do you improve your empathy quotient? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Pay attention – Are you fully present when you are with people? Do you give people your full attention or are you thinking about your next task or appointment? Do you consciencely look for body language signals when talking with someone? Are you conscience of your own body language when you are interacting with someone?
  • Try to get a sense of actually being in the other persons shoes – What would it be like if this was my situation? What must it feel like to have grown up like they did?
  • Imagine the other person as a child – This can be very helpful for people that are irritating or threatening.
  • Ask questions – What was that like? How did you feel? How did you handle that?
  • Look beneath the surface – What does the other person most deeply want? What is broken in their lives?
  • Slow down – When you are running 100 MPH it is very hard to stop and be empathetic.

Of course empathy does not happen if you don’t care about people. Selfish people don’t empathize well. Many leaders struggle with this as well, because they are highly motivated and goal oriented. Empathy takes time and you almost need to go in slow motion to really empathize with someone. If you see the other person as a project, you cannot empathize well.

The best way to increase your ability to empathize with someone is to spend time meditating on God’s word. Meditation has been proven to increase your ability to focus and pay attention. So if you lack the ability to focus or pay attention, then extended times of meditation on God’s word could help you break through some big walls in your life.

To check your empathy Quotient click here

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