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Empathy: A Gateway to Understanding

Posted on July 8, 2013 by Luanne Paynick

I recently found myself sitting with tears streaming down my face, pondering the importance of empathy, after viewing a video that was produced by The Cleveland Clinic– it touched me deeply.

Just what does it mean to have empathy for others? According to Wikipedia, Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another. Psychology Today says,Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. According to an article in theElephant Journal it is about realizing that everyone has a story. And (this is the scary part) because we are so caught up in our own story, we risk not even seeing the human being standing before us.

Empathy is not sympathy or compassion. Those two emotions look a bit different. They are the feelings we might have once we experience empathy.

Empathy is where it all begins. If we don’t have empathy, we aren’t able to choose the next step – whether it is sympathy or compassion, or some other emotion. And, if we don’t have empathy, we don’t connect to form the foundation of solid relationships – the very foundation that keeps us steady, grounded, productive and whole.

I worry, at times, that we may be at risk of losing the connections that come from empathy, simply because we are not taking the time to notice. Why not? Because we are so busy – busy doing, instead of busy being.

If your relationships are important to you, here are some tips that might help you ramp up your empathy for more connection, stronger relationships, and better results.

Empathy Tips – For More “Being” and “Less Doing”

Check-in with You

Take a moment to pause. Take a breath and just sit for a moment – every day, multiple times throughout the day. Notice your own body – your heart beating, the feel of the air on your skin, the pleasure the photo of your children on your desk brings you. News Flash . . . If you are not connected with yourself to notice what you are feeling, you will not notice what others are feeling.

Be Present

Rely on self-talk to keep you in the moment. If you find your mind drifting to other things (what you have to do next, what took place five minutes ago), remind yourself to be in the here and now. A simple mantra such as “Be present” might be enough to bring you back. When you are in the present, you notice what is going on around you. You see people, and you notice what they may be in the midst of.

Be Transparent

Let people know that you noticed. Rely on the following approach to express yourself:

  1. Make an observation.

I see . . .

I hear . . .

I sense . . .

  1. Name the emotion you are experiencing in them.

. . . that you are worried . . .

. . . concern in your voice . . .

. . . that you are excited . . .

  1. Connect the emotion to its source.

. . . about the outcome.

. . . regarding the delivery date.

. . . about this opportunity.

  1. Be Quiet.

Allow an open space for the person to vent, correct your assessment, or share more information if they choose.

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