Empathy 101

December 18 2012

Create one mandated course for high school students nationwide. What does it include?

At a recent dinner, this was one of the prompts for group discussion. Without hesitation, my mind sounded one clear word.

Empathy.

  • The ability to reference another’s perspective, considering their experiences and worldview, in order to better understand behavior and intention.
  • “Putting yourself in their shoes.”
  • The capacity to recognize another’s emotions and experiences, closing the gap between self and other.
  • Identifying a [valuable] perspective different than your own
  • Requires: self awareness, confidence, openness (personal traits)
  • Requires: listening, open communication, careful observation (communication skills)
  • NOT sympathy
  • NOT pity
  • Often a precursor to compassion
  • Integral for collaborations, understanding, effective and worthwhile discussions, conflict resolution

Ask me to summarize my clinical training into one concept and this would be it.

Harry Prosen defines empathy as “an emotional understanding which allows one as a therapist to resonate with one’s patients in depth emotionally, so that it influences the therapeutic approach and alliance with the patient.”

Yet empathy belongs in more places than clinical environments. We need it in our schools, our personal lives, our government, our businesses. We need to practice it on a daily basis and teach our children to do the same. We must find ways to listen, to converse, and to respond in ways that are considerate and cognizant of the person sitting across the table.

We get into trouble when we are unable to see us in them. This is when valuable information is lost and we lose the opportunity to connect in a new way. Empathy reminds us of our collective humanity.

If you’ve noticed, the best businesses are conducted in an empathic way. The best connections are formed when two parties consider the other’s frame of reference. When empathy is involved, relationships flourish, conversations become meaningful, and solutions address the heart of the real problem.

It’s never too late to learn, and you don’t need a special appointment or degree to practice awareness. Can you bring empathy into your interactions today?

“Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person, the divine energy in the other person, the life that’s alive in them.” —Marshall Rosenberg