What is empathy? Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another. To have empathy is to take their perspective, and walk in their shoes with compassion. It’s the basis for lifelong friendships, inspirational politics, and altruistic volunteerism. Empathy powers change.
Different kinds of empathy
Psychologists have defined three different kinds of empathy:
1. UNDERSTAND: Cognitive empathy is “perspective taking.” It is the ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.
2. FEEL: Emotional empathy is when you physically and emotionally feel what the other person is experiencing. It is essential for those in caring professions.
3. HELP: Compassionate empathy enables us to not only understand and feel what another person is going through, but empowers us to help that person.
What are the benefits of being empathetic?
Empathy impacts our everyday lives in five ways:
• Builds strong social connections: Empathy enables us to build social connections, and forge friendships, relationships, and partnerships. Those relationships are key to our optimal wellbeing, and increases feelings of happiness and self-worth.
• Improves leadership skills: Empathy improves our capacity to communicate well with individuals and a team. It helps you effectively lead and inspire others.
• Successful marriage/partnership: Empathy with our partner allows us to feel valued, loved, and cared for, and to mirror those feelings in return. Partner empathy is a strong predictor of a successful relationship.
• Better parenting: Empathy makes parents more resilient and better able to face the challenges associated with raising children. Empathetic parents also model empathetic behavior for their children, thereby teaching them empathy at an early age.
• Averting global disaster: Empathetic people are more likely to come together to tackle challenges on behalf of humanity, like global warming, a pandemic, or war.
Experts say empathy can be developed, so let’s learn how…
8 Strategies to Develop Empathy
Here are eight things you can do to cultivate empathy within yourself:
1. Cultivate Curiosity
Follow people on social media from different backgrounds — religious, ethnic, political — and listen to what they have to say. Visit new places, and immerse yourself in their life. Expand your horizons for a new perspective on the world.
2. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Learn something new, and experience what it’s like to be unable to do something well. Let it humble you. Humility is a path to empathy.
3. Receive Feedback
Ask for feedback from family, friends, and colleagues regarding your active listening and relationship skills. How could you improve? What opportunities did you miss?
4. Walk in the Shoes of Others
Find opportunities to mix with people from other backgrounds. How do they live and work? Compassion and understanding are the first steps toward empathy.
5. Examine Your Biases
Often without realizing it, we judge others. Again, mix with people from other backgrounds, and examine the preconceived notions you brought to the interaction about their intellect, their work ethic, and their generosity.
6. Difficult, Respectful Conversations
While it can feel uncomfortable to challenge or be challenged by alternative points of view, open your mind to new and different ideas. Start by researching an issue, and understand where a point of view has come from and how it affects the people involved. Then talk to people with those points of view. Listen and don’t interrupt. Active listening is at the heart of empathy.
7. Join a Shared Cause
Working together on community projects can heal divisions and remove biases. Or join others who have been through similar life experiences as you, and lean into the shared experience with empathetic support. It all helps to build trust and empathy.
8. Read Widely
Reading fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, journals, and online content that captures people’s lives from different backgrounds increases our emotional intelligence and our capacity to empathize.
Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s a foundation for acting ethically, and for cooperative professional success. It’s at the core of healthy and supportive friendships, relationships, and partnerships. And it’s key to preventing bullying and other cruelty. Learning empathy is like learning a new language. It requires practice and guidance, but with a little effort empathy becomes a natural reflex. Just a little extra empathy from everyone will contribute to a much kinder world.
Learn more about the benefits of empathy in our Communication class. Our caring staff members are eager to give you all the unconditional support, inspiration, and transformational tools you need to bring your body, mind, and spirit into healthy balance in a serene, peaceful setting. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org, and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.