Empathy is the ability to be aware of, understand and to appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others. Empathy is the ability to be sensitive to what, how and why people feel and think the way they do. Being ‘empathic’ is the ability to ‘read’ other people’s emotional states and to demonstrate care, interest and concern for them – in a non-judgemental way. One can easily diffuse an adversarial relationship and turn it into a collaborative one by simply holding the other person in mind and adjusting your response accordingly, thus making this skill a powerful tool.
There are three main misconceptions that prevent individuals from using this tool:
- They sometimes confuse empathy with ‘being nice’ i.e. making polite and pleasant statements. Remember empathy is the capacity to tune into what someone else is thinking and feeling about a situation and acknowledging those thoughts and feelings;
- Many people confuse empathy with sympathy, i.e. we express how we feel about the other person’s situation and put it onto that person. For example a sympathetic statement would be “Shame what a terrible situation, I can’t imagine what I would do if I were you.” Such a statement does not have the power to change a relationship as the other person doesn’t feel heard;
- Some people believe that making empathic statements means that you have to agree with or approving of the other person’s position. Not so, by being empathic, you acknowledge the view of the other person, i.e. admit its existence without passing judgement on its validity.
Extracts from ‘The EQ Edge’ by Steven J Stein (Phd) and Howard E Book (MD)
We filter what we hear, see and experience. Our worldview (the way we experience the world and the people in it) is governed by our beliefs which are formed as a result of all our past experiences with and through:
- Our parents, siblings, family, friends, teachers, society, co-workers, boss, etc;
- The culture in which we were raised;
- Our religion;
- The media;
- Our education (or lack therefore);
- Our value system
We all perceive experiences and information differently because of our filters. The information that enters our minds is filtered through our belief system (which exists because of our past experiences.) That is why two people attending the same meeting may leave with totally different perceptions about what was decided and why.
Jumping To Conclusions
We tend to jump to all sorts of conclusions with very limited information and no proof. We filter (cognitively distort) information by going beyond the evidence we actually have and we reach conclusions that makes things look worse than they are. The worst thing about jumping to a conclusion is acting as though [our conclusion] is true.
How can you overcome this destructive habit? Learn to gather a lot of information before drawing a conclusion. Find proof of what you suspect before accusing anyone, making hurtful statements and/or taking the wrong action. You will save yourself from yourself.
By Elsabé Manning
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew…
Colours of the Wind, Pocahontas