“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” –Daniel H. Pink
Empathy is the ability not only to detect what others feel, but also to experience that emotion yourself.
This can be both a bane and a boon. If you can read another person’s emotions then you can both avoid making a faux pas and also utilize their state to move them in another direction. When people are in emotional states their ability to decide is often significantly impaired. Thus you cannot expect aroused people to make rational choices at this time.
Empathy is a bane if you end up experiencing all the bad feelings of everyone around you.
Empathy and sympathy are very close and are sometimes used as synonyms. The easiest way to separate them is to remember that empathy is about feelings whilst sympathy is about actions. Thus you may empathize with another person and then act on this by telling them how sorry or happy you feel for them.
Empathetic people are often very sympathetic – they can hardly stop themselves as they really do feel for the other person.
A person who is sympathetic but not empathetic may appear a little shallow, as they are less likely to show an emotional connection. ‘Terribly sorry and all that, old chap’ they might say, in a friendly but relatively cold voice.
Being empathetic has many benefits
The value of empathy comes, not from understanding the other person’s feelings, but what you do as a result of this.
Empathy connects people together
When you empathize with me, my sense of identity is connected to yours. As a result, I feel greater in some way and less alone. I may also start to empathize more with you.
Having someone who really understands, how you feel can be a relief, as people with emotional problems often feel very much alone and different from other people. The non-judgmental quality can also be very welcome.
It can be a very healing experience for someone to empathize with you. When someone effectively says ‘I care for you’, it also says ‘I can do that, I can ‘
Empathy builds trust
Empathy displayed can be surprising and confusing. When not expected, it can initially cause , but when sustained it is difficult not to appreciate the concern. Empathy thus quickly leads to trust.
Empathy closes the loop
Consider what would happen if you had no idea what the other person felt about your communications to them. You might say something, they hated it, and you continued as if they understood and agreed. Not much persuasion happening there!
The more you can empathize, the more you can get immediate feedback on what they are experiencing of your communications with them. And as a consequence, you can to get them to feel what you want them to feel.
( International Trainer, Motivator & Coach
Edexcel Level – 4 Btec Professional Award ( UK)
ITOL Diploma in Coaching Excellence (UK) )