Empathy — What is it and why should you have it?
Empathy is the ability to understand a situation from another person’s point of view. It means that you are capable of knowing how that person is feeling under a certain circumstance. It means that, you can relate to why that person acted in a specific situation.
Why You Need to Have Empathy
It is vitally important to know how to be empathetic for others in order to establish, and sustain, healthy relationships. It is much more than having a feeling of sympathy for someone. Sympathy is feeling “for” someone, while empathy is feeling “with” someone, as in virtually going through a person’s situation with them as they are feeling it. Having empathy for a person helps another person feel understood, validates their feelings and strengthens your bond with them. You are not trying to solve their problems for them, you are just being there to offer support as they figure out what they need to do.
Humans are naturally inclined to have empathy for others. It is why we will cringe when we see someone get so much as a papercut, because we have all had a papercut and know how much it can hurt. But that empathy can always be improved upon. In order to improve on your empathy skills, you need to be aware of your own emotions, and how you fragile you can be yourself. Some people, however, such as narcissists, have a total lack of empathy for others, and their relationships are often volatile and crumble frequently as a result.
How to Practice Empathy
There are some key elements to develop, or improve upon, when practicing empathy, such as:
- Being a good listener — Concentrate on hearing what people are really saying when they speak to you. Do not worry about how you are going to respond to someone before they have even finished speaking. Slow down and try understand where their comments and resulting feelings are coming from before you start to think of how you are going to respond to what may not even be a fully articulated thought. Maybe ask a follow-up question or two before you respond to indicate that you have been listening to the conversation and that a person’s concerns are not falling on deaf ears.
- Showing that you understand — Show that you care about a person’s dilemma. Put your cell phone away. Turn off your computer. Try to interpret their body language. Are they tense? Visibly upset? Maybe they are happy about their situation and want someone to share it with. Being visibly reactive to a person who is sharing their experience expresses your personal care about another’s situation before you even say a word.
- Imagining it’s you — Think about a tense situation that you have recently been through. Perhaps you were arguing with your neighbors, or in a squabble with a family member or other loved one. These are situations you can’t just walk away from and are unlikely to come to a quick resolution. Who did you turn to, and were they able to offer the support you needed until you resolved your dilemmas? If so, consider how you felt being offered that support and try to learn from it.
Working to improve your empathy for others benefits you as well. You will tend to treat people the way you would like to be treated. You can understand and respond to the parts of a certain situation that are communicated without words, once again, indicating that you are listening. You will have less trouble dealing with the conflicts in your own life. Most of all, you will strengthen the bonds you have in your relationships, and feel confident that the same sort of empathy will be available for you when you need someone to lean on.