Among the socio-emotional skills, the development of empathy stands out as fundamental for our emotional well-being and the establishment of healthy interpersonal relationships throughout life.
Contrary to what you might think, the word does not express a feeling but a behavior.
Thus, its meaning is linked to the individual’s ability to put themselves in the other’s shoes, seeking to perceive and understand their intentions, desires, and motivations.
Find out more about what empathy is in this article, the types, and tips on how you can follow to develop it.
What is Empathy?
It is the ability to sense the emotions of the other and to put yourself in their shoes. We then share his feelings because we identify with him and understand how he may be feeling.
Understanding is the basis of empathy. For example, a friend loses his job and feels helpless. We can have empathy because we can imagine how it would feel if such a situation happened.
However, you feel a softer version of what the other is going through because you have objectivity. A certain distance between us and the emotions is established because we know that it is not us who are experiencing the tragedy but the other. Empathy is learned and developed.
The Three Different Types of Empathy
Within psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral sciences, empathy is considered one of the elements of emotional intelligence. Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman, researchers on the subject, point out three types of empathy. Check out the details of each one:
Cognitive: Understanding the other’s point of view
It refers to the most popular idea of empathy, related to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s the ability to understand another person’s feelings and what they might be thinking.
It can also be called perspective-taking and helps negotiate or motivate others.
This type of empathy is also very effective in developing good communicators because the perception of others helps people look for more efficient ways to get their messages across.
Emotional: Sharing each other’s feelings
Also called affective empathy, it involves sharing feelings with another person creating an emotional connection. Paul Ekman defines this type as a feeling of emotional contagion, where one feels physically with the other person.
As he explains, emotional empathy makes someone tuned in to another person’s internal emotional world, being one of the types of empathy that is often more difficult to develop, as it involves self-knowledge and emotional self-regulation.
Compassionate: Realizing that the other needs help and making yourself available
In the latter type of empathy, understanding and connection develop into action. Once they understand someone’s situation and share their feelings, empaths are motivated to help.
This type of empathy is also called empathic concern.
7 TIPS TO DEVELOP EMPATHY
- GET TO KNOW PEOPLE
It would help if you learned to listen to other people’s experiences and hear about their fears, wants, and stories.
Once you meet someone else, it will be easier to feel compassion and want to help them.
For this, you must stop and listen with all your attention. Don’t stay on your cell phone, and don’t interrupt when the person is talking. If you want to share a story, wait for her to finish speaking. Show interest.
- ACTIVE LISTENING
Active listening is undoubtedly one of the most critical communication points and achieving empathy. It proves to be one of the most significant weaknesses of any interaction most of the time.
There is no active listening when there is no interest in the dialogue expressed by the other. Active listening means responding to the other’s request.
Among several definitions of active listening, a consensus is formed when understanding that it is a skill that requires understanding and care.
- FIND COMMONALITIES
All of us human beings have things in common. Be it our need for understanding and nourishment, even our desire to see the world.
Find out what you have in common with the people you talk to. Divide these points and form bonds with them, sharing stories and moments.
- AVOID MAKING JUDGMENTS
Even if you listen to the person and have points in common, you don’t know what he feels, what he thinks, and how things develop in his life.
Avoid thinking negatively about people you know. If they don’t please you, walk away, not badmouthing or hurting anyone.
“Before judging my life or my character… put on my shoes and walk the path I took, live my sorrows, my doubts, and my joys. Go through the years I’ve come, stumble where I stumbled, and stand up just like I did. And then, only then can you judge.” Attributed to Clarice Lispector
- SEE-THROUGH EACH OTHER’S EYES
Knowing, finding common ground, and not judging others are the first steps. But to be truly empathetic, you need to try to see the world through that person’s eyes.
Since we know this is impossible, we can listen, try to connect our emotions, and search within ourselves for the moments when we feel the same way.
- DON’T SAY I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL
You don’t know precisely how that person feels even after following the previous step. Saying that and completing with “the same thing happened to me already” doesn’t always solve something, and most of the time, it sounds as if you lessen the pain of others.
You can override this behavior and ask the person how they feel and what you can do. Offer your time, your friendly shoulder, and a hug if she wants.
- STOP OFFERING ADVICE
A truly empathetic person knows that one thing doesn’t always work for two people alike. If you want to help the other, form a solution together through conversation and understanding.
Giving advice is offering the solution to your problems to someone else. This shows sympathy, but it is far from being an empathetic attitude.
When none of this works, or you cannot maintain a dialogue with the person, respect them as you like to be respected and understand that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity.
Empathy strengthens connections, encourages collaboration, and improves results. It is the remedy for the toxic selfishness that makes bonds so difficult and disruptive.
Understanding empathy is not an easy task, but investing in the exercise of looking at the world through someone else’s eyes is essential.
References and Further Reading