Empathy is the capacity to emotionally understand what another person feels, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place, and use that understanding to guide your actions. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else’s shoesand feeling what they must be feeling.
When you see another person suffering, you might be able to instantly envision yourself in the other person’s place and feel sympathy for what they are going through. This ability to see things from another person’s perspective and sympathize with their emotions plays an important role in our social lives. Empathy allows us to understand others and, quite often, compels us to take action to relieve another person’s suffering.
Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Sympathy is a feeling of concern for someone else and a desire that they become happier or better off, while empathy involves sharing the other person’s emotions. Empathy involves showing sensitivity and understanding others’ perspectives, acting on their needs and concerns, and helping them to develop to their full potential. In the workplace,empathy could be putting the needs of customers first and looking for ways to improve their satisfaction and loyalty.
Empathy is an important skill for building and managing healthy relationships. It reflects your ability to connect with others and to relate to them. Without the ability to understand what another is going through, our relationships remain superficial and without the depth and richness that occurs when there is an emotional connection.
The Benefits of Empathy
- It reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
- It builds resilience
- It builds trust
- It promotes healing
- It helps with personal growth
- It promotes collaboration
- It fosters positivity
- It improves emotional and physical health and well-being
- It helps with conflict resolution
- It helps you become a better leader
- It leads to better relationships
- It improves emotional intelligence
- It leads to a happier life
The following actions can help you develop empathy
i. Listen actively – learn to listen to understand and not just torespond. Also, work on listening to people without interrupting.
ii. Communicate effectively – pay attention to body language and other types of nonverbal communication.
iii. Be open-minded – try to understand other people’s situations and opinions, even when you don’t agree with them.
iv. Be curious about strangers – talking to people outside your usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from your own expands empathy.
v. Imagine what it’s like for others – it’s sometimes difficult for us to understand another person’s situation, being able to imagine what it must be like for them is an essential aspect of empathy.
vi. Ask questions – it’s usually not enough to just imagine how someone else feels, sometimes it is important to just ask them.
vii. Focus on commonalities – identify what you have in common or what you share with people rather than what divides or causes discord.
viii. Inspire change – this could be through volunteering or social work; this would serve as a source of inspiration.
ix. Be real about how you feel – being able to admit, own, and express our emotions genuinely will help us move past defensiveness and foster trust.
x. Practice meditation and mindfulness – this will help you control your emotions, find clarity, and channel positivity to yourself and others around you.
xi. Practice forgiveness – the more willing we are to forgive ourselves and others, the more we will be able to empathize.