Character - Empathy

‘The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling’.

Character - Empathy

‘The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling’.

Over the next few weeks as part of our work on developing character we will be focusing on Empathy. If students have empathy, they will help and understand each other better, and learn to live in a rich and diverse community. We also want all students to feel that this is their school and they belong here. Key information on ‘having empathy’ is included below.

Empathy

What does empathy mean?

The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

What is sympathy vs empathy?

Sympathy involves understanding from your own perspective. Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding WHY they may have these particular feelings. In becoming aware of the root cause of why a person feels the way they do, we can better understand and provide healthier options.

What is a good example of empathy?

For example, you likely smile and take the trouble to remember people’s names: that’s empathy in action. Giving people your full attention in meetings/when talking and listening to them, being curious about their lives and interests, and offering constructive feedback are all empathic behaviors, too. Practice these skills often.

How do you show empathy?

1 - Listen With a Goal to Understand

Most of the time, people just need to feel heard. This is why listening is one of the first steps to showing empathy. And if you do decide to lend your ear to someone, listen with a goal to understand. Many of us don’t really like listening to people whining about their lot in life. Especially if we too have our own burdens to bear. So most of the time, their words just go in one ear and out the other. We listen just for the sake of listening and not because we want to understand. But if you really want to show empathy, actively listen to what they have to say. Let them talk with no interruption.

2 - Ask With Genuine Curiosity

Asking questions like “How are you?” or “How’s your day” is a great way to start conversations. But most of the time, we only ask people those questions out of politeness rather than genuine curiosity. That’s why most conversations start and end with those questions. But the core of empathy is curiosity. If you really want to understand someone, you need to dig deeper. Show that you are interested in what they have to say. Rather than just asking how their day went, let them talk about something interesting that happened to them.

3 - Be Present

Nothing can be more irritating than talking to someone who’s physically present but is mentally wandering around. So imagine what the other person would feel if you’re staring at your gadget the whole time they were talking. We get that listening to others about their problems can be awkward or boring at times. So the temptation to doze off or play with your gadget can be hard to resist. This is why being present and paying attention to people is a great way to show empathy. If you can keep your focus on the person in front of you, it will tell them that you’re willing to listen. It shows that you really care about them and that you’re someone they can pour their heart out to.

4 - Let Go of Your Biases

All of us are guilty of having biases and prejudices. But it doesn’t mean we can’t unlearn them. If you really want to sincerely show empathy to others, you first need to let go of all your biases. Learn to listen with an open mind. Remember, we all have different experiences.

5 - Refrain From Offering Unsolicited Advice

People who share their problems with you are not necessarily looking for advice. Sometimes they just need a shoulder to cry on. So as much as possible, avoid offering unsolicited advice. I know you mean well but receiving unsolicited advice just doesn’t sit well with people who are going through a tough time. Remember, they need someone to understand them, not someone who tells them what to do.

6 - Look Them In The Eye

They say that the eyes are the windows to one’s soul. That’s why looking someone in the eye is a great way to convey empathy and sincerity. Most people also see eye-to-eye contact as a way of baring your soul to the other person. But remember to do it naturally. Also, you can’t do this with anyone. Some people are just not comfortable with maintaining eye contact and you need to respect that.

7 - Acknowledge Their Feelings

Even if you don’t agree with their beliefs and decisions, everyone’s feelings are valid. So avoid telling people phrases like “it’s alright, you’ll get through it” or “just look on the bright side.” Though these may sound reassuring, it actually invalidates their feelings and emotional pain. Instead, tell them “I’m sorry you are going through this” or “I can’t imagine what you must be going through”. It shows that you acknowledge their feelings and that it’s perfectly understandable for them to feel that way.

8 - Open Up About a Similar Experience

Though it may seem like you should focus on the other person, practicing empathy is actually a two-way street. Sometimes it helps to open up about your experience in a similar situation so others can see their predicament from a different perspective. But be careful not to make the conversation about you. It should be a sharing of experience and perspective so you can both learn from each other.