Empathy is one of the most important skills included in emotional intelligence. The word comes from the Greek words meaning “within” and “what is felt”, but the real meaning of this psychological phenomenon is even more important than the ability to put oneself in the place of another.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s emotional life, in almost all its complexity. This does not necessarily mean sharing the same opinions and arguments that justify the state or reaction that the other person expresses. It does not even mean agreeing with the way the other person interprets emotionally charged situations.
Empathy refers among other things to active listening, understanding and emotional support. In addition, empathy implies having the capacity to differentiate between the affective states of others and the ability to take perspective, both cognitive and affective, with respect to the person who expresses his or her emotional state.
Perhaps on some occasions you have not felt heard for lack of feedback, support or understanding. On many other occasions, you may feel that you have not been able to attend adequately and empathetically to the emotional state of the other person and you ask yourself : What do I need or should I do to be more empathetic?
Fundamentally, the components of empathy are as follows:
1. Knowing how to listen
Pay attention to what the other person explains or argues, pay attention to non-verbal manifestations, such as gestures that correspond to the state of mind that is being verbalized, and do not interrupt the verbal discourse.
In addition, reflect on what the other person is communicating to you, express active follow-up signs as feedback: look at the face, nod or reflect facial expressions congruent with what the other person is explaining to you .
On the other hand, it is necessary to show interest by asking for details about the content of the conversation.
2. Interpreting non-verbal signals
Understands messages transmitted of a paralinguistic nature, such as intonation, response time, volume…
We can show congruent understanding to what is explained to us through phrases such as: “I understand that you acted this way”. “I understand how you feel.” “You must have really had a great time”…
The emotions of the person expressing them should not be invalidated, rejected or judged as this is a fundamental premise for showing empathic sensitivity.
4. Provide emotional support if needed
It is important to always ask our partner if they need any help . However, on many occasions, simply by actively listening to the other person we allow him/her to “vent” and manage his/her emotional state. In this way he feels relieved to have a reliable listener to whom he can transmit his emotions.
When the person who is listening empathically has experienced an emotional situation similar to the one being expressed, the communicative process is more fluid, since a greater emotional tuning is produced.
Why practice it?
Empathy, as an emotional intelligence skill, is important because it makes it possible to experience different benefits .
- It allows you to enjoy social relationships by participating more with your group of friends, colleagues or family.
- It helps you feel personally better.
- It facilitates conflict resolution.
- It predisposes to help others and share.
- It increases the charisma and attractiveness.
- It allows you to be more respectful.
- It develops leadership, negotiation and collaboration skills, as well as being better regarded by others.
How to cultivate empathy?
Practicing empathy helps us to broaden our perspectives and thus enrich our world with new ideas , views and opportunities.
It is a key social skill that, as we have already seen, allows us to listen better, understand and ask better questions, three fundamental aspects of good communication. It is also one of the foundations for building solid and enriching relationships.
You can incorporate into your routine 3 simple practical exercises to improve your empathy .
1. Ask and show interest
Start any meeting or conversation with open, personalized questions: How are you? How are you doing at work? How is the project you started going? How was your vacation?
By showing closeness and interest in the other person, he leaves space for them to open up and simply receive .
2. Reads theater scripts
Read theatre scripts and focus on a character . Look in the text for what is beyond the words; the personal story, previous experiences, the fears it hides, its desires and illusions, the emotions that are on the surface…
3. Choose a person
He chooses a person at random and tries to find out through his non-verbal communication what moves him (emotion and thought) to do what he does and how he does it. A good time to carry out this exercise is on public transport, in a cafeteria… These places are rich in scenes as they can serve to put empathy into practice.