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What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

Empathy is about understanding what others think and feel; this applies even when they don’t necessarily express their feelings in words. You look at it from their frame of reference.


How is it different from sympathy?

Sympathy: Trying to understand the other person through our lens and perspective. With sympathy, you may feel pity or sorry for the person. When you have similar values and principles, you can be sympathetic to a person’s circumstances because you identify with those circumstances.


Empathy: Trying to understand the other person through their lens. Through empathy, you feel with the person rather than feel for them. You are trying to understand why something matters to someone even though it does not matter as much or at all for you. That is true empathy.


How can we develop empathy?

1. Be observant

Observe the tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and body language. But also observe whether the nonverbal signs align with the verbal content. If the context and verbal content are both positive but the non-verbal signs do not reflect the positivity, that would be your cue to delve in gently and with sensitivity to explore why.

2. Listen actively

  • Give your undivided attention to the other person.

  • Allow them to complete their conversation without interrupting them.

  • Summarize your understanding and ask if you understood it correctly. “What I hear you say is……Am I hearing it right?”

3. Express in words how the other person might feel about the situation

  • “You may have felt upset about that” OR

  • “You might have felt very disappointed about that” OR

  • “You may have felt undermined or undervalued in that situation”

4. Don’t jump to conclusions and share your opinion before they finish. Give yourself time to understand the situation and feeling. You may find that what you found concerning may not have been what they are concerned about. Avoid the temptation to complete their sentence.

5. You are not always expected to give advice. Sometimes, people just want to be listened to. And you might find that by just speaking out loud, they often find the answers themselves.

6. Where possible, try to avoid using phrases like “I wouldn’t worry about it” or “if I were you”…..empathy means realizing that it is not about you or your worries and most importantly, realizing that ‘it is not you, but another person’

With the above tips on empathy, you can surely do better in your relationships with people whether at the workplace or elsewhere. For better results, you may get in touch with Life coach Johncey George – a Certified Leadership Coach in India.


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