Have you come across a judgmental person or a social situation before, where you felt uncomfortable because there was a lack of compassion either towards you or towards others involved? Such moments challenge us in terms of how much empathy we have ourselves. When you think about empathy and what it means in a nutshell, it’s all about having compassion towards others. It’s not difficult to have compassion if you are an open-minded and intuitive person. At the same time, it is something you can acquire through life experience or professional education/trainings.
Being an empathetic person has many facets because empathy itself is multi-dimensional:
As a Perspective
For example, when seeing things from someone else’s perspective and accepting it as a real possibility despite even disagreeing with them, one shows a certain level of understanding towards them as a unique individual with their lifestyle and their specific way of thinking.
As a Skill
Empathy is a skill you can acquire that can help you strengthen your social connections. The reason for this is that it affects your cognitive, emotional and compassionate abilities to the point of feeling what others feel and, therefore, being able to bond with them better. However, one needs to keep in mind that there are people who might not have empathy as a skill but have a different skill instead. This provides a great learning opportunity for both parties.
As a Talent
Some people are already born with having empathy as their characteristic trait, not needing to acquire it as a skill and, therefore, appear to have a talent for having empathy towards others. In this case it comes natural to them and when observing such empathetic individuals, we can actually learn so much from how they utilize their empathy in everyday situations.
As a Way of Life
One cannot avoid people who are critical or judgmental but one can equip oneself with empathy and be determined to encounter people and situations with an open mind and heart. By treating anyone you encounter as a human-being who deserves the same happiness as yourself, who deserves to be treated fairly and to be respected as their own individual, you let empathy shape your way of life and worldview.
How About Empathy in Practice?
So far, we went through how you theoretically can show empathy but how does this look like in practice? One good way of looking at it is symbolically and imagining you are taking a different perspective as your own, just like they say: “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”. Pretend in your mind that you are wearing someone else’s shoes, these shoes will look and feel differently, of course, but it’s all about “living” the other person’s life, being them in that instant, feeling what they are feeling, with their point of view, as if you took the same steps in life as they did. This little “challenge” can even help you reconsider your own mindset- but only if you are open about stepping out of your own comfort zone. Empathy is essential if we want to get along with each other in a respectful manner. Ultimately, having empathy and knowing how to utilize it, benefits everyone because it has the potential to positively change the interactions we have with each other.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, a speaker and author on the topic of empathy, there are 4 steps to practice empathy that can be implemented both in our personal and professional lives (see for more information: 4 Steps to Practice Empathy from Dr. Brene Brown (linkedin.com):
1. Perspectivetaking (trying to see and understand the other person’s perspective, finding a similar experience where you felt the same way as the other person)
2. Staying out of judgment (active listening and understanding without judging the other person)
3. Recognizing emotions someone else is feeling (acknowledge and recognize the other person’s emotions whatever it is)
4. Communicating that you understand an emotion (show the other person that you understand them with their perspective and how they feel, this is also how you build connections with the other person)