So we’re here at the final part of our journey with empathy ~ you might want to grab a cuppa 😉
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what empathy is and how it can help in all areas of life, particularly in relationships and having a successful career.
Having empathy is not to be confused with being empathic on a spiritual level. Being ‘an Empath’ is a whole different ballgame and the two shouldn’t be confused.
An Empath can sense or feel what another person feels, often whether they want to or not. They’re very sensitive individuals who usually end up in caring or holistic professions as they have a natural ability to feel what is emotionally going on with another person. They are an Empath, it is part of their spiritual gifts and the majority of the population don’t have this particular skill. However, everyone can have or learn empathy.
As someone who was born an Empath, that sensitivity for me is very much an emotional and spiritual experience. However, I’ve had to learn about having empathy for someone, which is more about active listening and understanding in my mind how an experience is for another person rather than feeling with my ‘woo woo’ senses ~ which I always ask permission for out of courtesy/respect. Does that make sense? (drop me a line if its as clear as mud ;-))
If you want to learn how to have more empathy in your relationships, whether they be personal or professional, here’s a few tips you can start using in your life right here, right now……….
Be Curious About People You Don’t Know
Curiosity expands our mind and in turn, our levels of empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives, opinions, experiences and views that are different from our own. Being more curious is more than saying hello and talking about the weather. Genuine curiosity tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We meet strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed man standing at the bus stop or the new staff member who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger that you are drawn to every week. All it requires is courage…..and genuine curiosity. You’ll be surprised how much it opens your heart & mind.
Try Living Another Person’s Life
Try putting into practice the old Native American proverb ‘walk a mile in another man’s shoes before you criticize them’. Instead of judging that homeless person on the street, try spending a few nights on the street yourself and see how just a tiny taste of that life feels. Or instead of thinking that all people who jump out of an airplane are thrill seekers or crazy, try a skydive for charity. Next time you stand in judgement of someone, think about whether you could actually walk a mile in their shoes. If you consider yourself someone who knows all about God and religion, try attending different churches and reading books from different faiths then talking to people of that faith. Socialise with them and see belief in action rather than assuming anything. Its so easy for us to condemn a whole faith based on media propaganda, but have you ever sat in mosque or spent time in the home of a muslim (for example) and listened to their stories, their hopes, their fears or experienced their culture and family dynamics? Try it. It will change your perspective and your World immeasurably.
Challenge Prejudice & Find Common Ground
If No. 2 above goes too far for you, then consider looking at the collective labels given to people by society in general. What would you think if you saw an obviously young, heavily pregnant woman pushing another child in a pram? What about an obviously wealthy politician, a woman in a Burkha, or a heavily tattooed man with a shaven head? Challenge your own preconceptions and prejudices any time you become aware of them. The examples I’ve given are deliberately strong and provoking, but our prejudices can often be more subtle and no one escapes. We ALL have them and that is perfectly normal. However, our preconceptions are often learned from our parents, teachers, friends, the media and peers, so its always healthy to challenge why we think & feel the way we do. True empathy looks for what connects you to another person rather than what divides you. Explore your own thoughts and mind…..do your ideas and views come from your childhood, the media, past experience or society as a whole? If you challenge your perceptions and tried to connect with someone rather than dismiss them due to preconceived ideas, you may be pleasantly surprised. Exploring our own perception has the power to change our whole outlook on life and our relationships with others.
Truly LISTEN to Others and OPEN UP Yourself
This is by far the most comfortable option for most of us, but for some, not necessarily the easiest. We have to learn to actively listen to what other people are saying. Its about focusing our attention, 100% on what another person is saying, by being present and not thinking about how we are going to answer or respond to that person. We have to silence our own mind so it can only be used to listen and process another person’s information. We need to listen hard and do everything we can to grasp and understand what that person’s experience is like for them. However, listening isn’t enough when we want to connect on a deeper level. We also have to open up ourselves and allow ourselves to be vulnerable. By removing our masks and revealing ourselves to someone, we create a truly strong bond, based on empathy. We’ll truly understand and ‘get’ each other!
Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same humanity, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence that was not of their making. This has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grass roots, peace-building movements.
In general, where relationships are concerned……if your partner is in a strange mood, listen up! People want to talk, to be listened to and be heard/understood. If you interrupt their talking or try to provide immediate solutions, it can stunt your partner’s efforts to express emotion. Really LISTEN – are they asking you for a solution? Have they asked anything at all……..or are they just talking….wanting you to listen, to hear, to understand how something has made them feel? Trying to provide immediate solutions can also make another person feel inadequate, like they aren’t clever enough to come up with ideas themselves. In an effort to help, it could actually make everything a whole lot worse! So just listen…..and use empathy. If you’re at all unsure, ask them ‘Do you need comfort or solution?’. The former just needs you to hold space for them and use empathy. The latter requires the same, before brain storming solutions. It will improve your relationships dramatically.
If you’re discussing a really sensitive subject with someone, take turns listening and speaking and leave space in between each turn. Agree this between you before you even approach the subject. If you’re speaking, when you’re finished, really think about what you’ve just said…..are there are any underlying core beliefs or past experiences that make you feel the way you do? If so, share them. Don’t say its time for the other person to start talking until you feel you have explored everything you’ve just said and are ready to listen & hold space in return.
If you’re the listener & think the speaker might not have asked themselves the above questions, ask those kinds of questions so that both of you think and consider how the speaker is feeling – after all, if they’re sharing their feelings, it could make them feel very vulnerable and it might be good to explore and understand that before jumping in with a response. You’ll deepen the love, understanding and compassion you have for each other and although it may be very different and a bit awkward at first, you’ll soon learn how to make this a natural way of communicating about touchy subjects.
Remember, slowing communication down encourages empathy – speeding it up means things go too fast to truly listen, understand or care about each other and could end up in a fight, a stalemate or with an undercurrent of misunderstood feelings and resentment.
Try to remain neutral and own your own feelings – never say ‘you’ or point fingers when you are expressing how an experience feels to you. If you have to, then the term‘when you behave like……………..it makes me feel……………’ can work wonders. Using that term means you won’t be throwing anything in anyone’s face or apportioning blame, you’re just letting them know how their behaviour makes you feel and that has to be understood and acknowledged between you both in order for things to change.
Empathy, at its best, is a two-way street that is built upon mutual understanding and an exchange of our most important beliefs, feelings, thoughts and experiences. It fosters understanding, caring, love, compassion and most of all, a truly honest, open, incredibly strong connection to another person. Who wouldn’t want that in a relationship or in their life?
Until next time……with love