Empathy: one of the most advanced methods of Communication

January 1, 2015

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What is Empathy? This word is often misunderstood, however it is one of the most advanced methods of Communication.

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing and how they see the world”.

Or

“Empathy is the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and/or emotional state.”

Some people are more intuitive, they can sense moments they have to use their empathic abilities. On the other hand, there are people who are born to be less empathetic, and therefore they try to develop empathy as a life skill.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually. Tim Minchin

Effective communication and strong imagination are two basic components of cognitive empathy that are required to be successfully empathetic. Even though empathy is something you perform as a sense perception and it comes naturally to the majority of people, it is a skill that can be developed.
Effective communication is when two people reach a deeper understanding towards each other. This can be achieved by expressing yourself effectively and by knowing how to listen, as well as other interpersonal skills. Strong imagination is needed because everybody shares different opinions and beliefs based on how they were brought up since birth, we all share different religions and cultures. In order to empathise, we need to fully understand their way of thinking and how they perceive the world, and this requires imagination. We need to create scenarios in our heads in which we are the person we are trying to empathise with. We need to step into their shoes and try to go through what you think they went through. Many people find it easier to empathise with people they have a closer relationship with, and this is because they have more shared experiences and views.
On the other hand, there is affective empathy: this is a shared emotional response, a mirrored response to feelings. When looking at someone’s face going through a hard period of their life, a very sad face, you have an impulse to mirror their face and their emotions.

I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes: to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this, when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathise with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers; it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.
– Barack Obama

Empathy is at the heart of emotional intelligence. This involves being able to perceive emotions non-verbally, such as body language, but it also means being self – aware about our own emotions. Emotional intelligence means being able to reason with emotions, this involves the use of emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity, the ability to control feelings and behaviours and react in healthy ways. The next step is the capability to understand emotions and where they come from. Lastly, there is emotional management, the ability to control one’s own emotions and have an appropriate response in order to maintain healthy relationships and good communications.
In order to become empathetic, there are certain things that can be done to develop this skill. Trying to feel curious about strangers is a good way to start. Showing interest in someone drives them to open up with you, all you have to do is to demonstrate you are a good listener. Challenge your usual stereotypes and prejudices, don’t judge a person based on their nationality or religion. When you start realising they are human beings with moral values like yourself, then you start to truly understand and appreciate them. You should always try to step into that person’s shoes, and imagine how you would react and feel if you were the one going through what that person is going through. Listening is not always the only thing you could try doing, opening yourself up to somebody else shows trust in that person, and they are more likely to show more trust in you afterwards as well.

To conclude, I want to show you a video by philosopher and author Roman Krznaric – “The Power of Outrospection”

Romina Bai, Gamechangers Program 14’

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