Empathy seems like a relatively simple concept and talked about a lot in the world of social and emotional learning these days. If we create empathy, we create connection, and connection supports healthy relationships.
In its simplest form, just “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” and you can understand how they might feel in that situation or know what they should do. One of my strengths is being a “relator” or someone who builds lasting relationships. Relating also allows me to have a unique depth of perspective on other people’s lives and triumphs. I enjoy close relationships and working with my others to reach goals. So it would seem that I should be naturally empathetic, right?
Well, that isn’t always the case and it isn’t always easy for me. I do think I have a fairly good amount of natural empathy for others. Life has given me a wide range of experiences from which to pull when it comes to relating to others. I’ve noticed though that sometimes I still unintentionally put my own “spin” on things if I am not fully focused on intention in my listening I may relate my experiences and emotions to a situation that someone else is experiencing. I haven’t experienced that exact situation myself but “think” I know how it would feel.
It takes hard work to connect fully to the intensity of emotions or experiences that others have. Have you ever had something like this happen to you? You are having a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day and you share those experiences with a friend or colleague. Their response? “Well, yeah that’s bad, but you know what happened to me today?” or “Well, at least “this” didn’t happen to you.” Their response can make you deflate even more. All you probably really wanted was some empathy. Someone to hear your feelings and experiences and connect with them. To say something like, “You are right, that was a pretty horrendous day.”
Your friend or colleague isn’t intentionally dismissing or minimizing your feelings and experiences. As Brene Brown explains in the Empathy vs Sympathy video, they are “silver lining” it for you because maybe your painful feelings or experience make them uncomfortable. Acknowledging that discomfort and being ok with allowing it is something that I am striving to achieve. I don’t have to “fix” things for everyone but rather intentionally listen and allow them to share. Encourage them that their feelings are their own and ok. That’s what most people need.
I encourage you to watch Brene Brown’s video and reflect a bit on how you can show more empathy today! We are all works in progress and the more we can connect, the happier we will be!