In this video by Brené Brown, she discusses the differences between sympathy and empathy as well as four qualities of empathy. I would like to share those four qualities now and discuss them.
One, perspective taking this is the ability to recognize the perspective of another person and to recognize their perspective as their truth. It is easy for us to say “no, that's wrong, that is not how I feel!” or “That’s just your opinion”, but peoples perspectives and opinions are often formed from their experiences and their lives and that is what makes them their truth.
Two, staying out of judgement. Out culture is obsessed with judgement, it can be as simple as “She doesn’t eat very healthy food” or “She needs new shoes”. Maybe she cannot afford fresh food everyday or she packs the fresh food in her childs lunch and she chooses to eat the cheaper option even though it is less healthy. Perhaps she has a condition with her feet that means she needs to wear special shoes, maybe they were a gift from someone and she really likes them, maybe she just really likes them. These passive comments are judgements and all of us take part in this behavior, even if we do not have malicious intent, these comment can hurt others. We should do our best to recognize these judgements and turn them into conversations, invite them to have lunch with you, say “Hey, I have never seen that brand of show before, are they comfortable? Where did you get them?”. Learn more about the people in your life and assume less.
Three, recognizing emotion in other people. This can be awkward for some people in the workplace, I feel that many people do not feel comfortable talking about personal things in the work environment or they do not feel that it is a safe place to talk about themselves for fear of judgement. One way we can recognize emotion is understanding that everyone we meet has a whole life that we know very little about, emotions can carry over from one thing to another very easily. We all have bad days, we have limits and we all get stressed, overwhelmed or feel alone and misunderstood. You can start a conversation with someone you notice may be a bit emotional by telling them how you are feeling “Wow, I am having a rough day today. This morning I spilled coffee all over my car and then I got to the meeting and realized there was a wet spot on my pants. I am a little bit sad and embarrassed and I am ready for it to be the weekend. How are you feeling today?” Or simply “I am feeling tired today, how are you feeling?”. By doing this you are opening an invitation for them to choose to share how they are feeling and to feel a bit more comfortable since you were also willing to share. You can also just read the cues someone is giving off and if they seem to want to be left alone, just understand they are going through somethings and be there for them if they need you.
Four, communicating that emotion. This sort of ties into the last one but this is all supposed to be a cohesive experience. I understood this not as it sounds which is “Clearly state whatever emotion you are feeling”, because that is unrealistic. Sometimes we have no idea what we are feeling or why we feel that way, but being able to communicate that we are feeling an emotion or that we are feeling off or anxious or worried can be enough. Recognize this in others and communicate that you do not judge them and that if they are not ready to talk about how they are feeling or if they are unsure of what they feel this is normal and more than okay. We are all humans and we are living through a crazy time in our country right now.
Empathy is feeling WITH people, to connect with someone through empathy you have to connect with something inside yourself. Rarely do empathetic responses start with “at least”, so if someone chooses to share something with you, do not default to a response that implies they should be grateful for whatever they still have and do not compare it to something totally different. Look inwardly and see if you have felt that same way about something or if you have been in that specific situation. Let them know that you hear them, you recognize how they are feeling that you are right there with them, help them in whatever way you can. Sometimes the best way that you can help someone is to just be there for them.I wanted to close with a quote from Brené from this video that I found very powerful, “Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is a connection”.