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Empathic Understanding

Empathic understanding means having the ability to perceive the other person’s world as they see it. This is done by considering their frame of reference, and being able to communicate that understanding tentatively. Demonstrating empathy means:

  • being able to step into the other’s shoes, and being able to step out again
  • being able to stand back far enough to remain unbiased, rather than making rigid assumptions about the other person
  • being close to, yet remaining separate from – it doesn’t mean we become the other person but rather appreciate them

Empathy works within the frame of ‘as if I were that other person’. It taps into your intuition and imagination.

Three Parts of Empathy

  1. Thinking – a logical understanding of the feeling of another.
  2. Feeling – a mirroring or communicating of the emotions with the other person.
  3. Doing – assuming in your mind the role of the other person.

Empathy can also be communicated non-verbally through facial expression, eye contact, and a forward leaning of the body, and sometimes a reduction of the physical distance.

Empathy is not a genetic endowment; it is a skill we can all develop. Some might have to work very hard at it, for others it might come easily. If you find it difficult to pick out feelings and respond to them with empathy, try not to be too discouraged. Keep plugging away at it, and find someone on whom you can practice.

Building an Empathic Link

Here are some practical ways to build an empathic link with others:

  • Show up
  • Pay attention
  • Be open
  • Drop judgments
  • Track the other person’s emotions
  • Tune into face and eyes
  • Ask: What would you be feeling if you were in the other’s shoes?
  • Sense beneath the surface and investigate actively…. ask questions