Empathy is an emotional skill and as with any skill you have to keep practising to gain mastery.
It is about our ability to understand what some-one is experiencing and to reflect back our understanding.
The attributes of empathy by Theresa Wiseman:-
- Perspective taking – what is the experience like for you?
- Staying out of judgment – just listen don’t evaluate
- Recognising emotion
- Communicating our understanding
- Practising mindfulness – feeling the emotion and moving through it
Empathy is a tool of compassion, we only truly experience it if we are present for some-one else’s pain. If we are not willing to be fully present then it’s not real empathy.
Brené Brown writes in Atlas of the Heart “We need to dispel the myth that empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes. Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences”
- Sympathy – “I feel so sorry for you” – empathy is not feeling sorry for some-one
- Judgement – The gasp from your friend is not empathy – over reaction will make the person feel shame
- Disappointment – “You’ve let me down” – if they are looking for you to be exemplary all the time is not relating to you
- Comparing/Competing – “If you think that’s bad” – not about you, must be their agenda
- Problem solving – “I can fix it” – just listen don’t go into fixer mode
- Avoid – “Let’s make this go away” – sit with the discomfort and connect in a meaningful way
We need to truly listen and be present for the person feeling what they are feeling to even begin to master empathy.