Empathy is defined as understanding what another person is experiencing from their frame of reference. Translating that definition into action requires more than just an understanding. People that are empathic exhibit four basic attributes. A person being empathetic must:
- See the world as others see it. Put yourself in another person’s shoe. More importantly, you must be able to put aside your own filters. This why it is often easier to be empathetic towards people that are like you or have similar experiences (we will revisit this potential dark side later in this series).
- Be nonjudgmental. Judging another person’s situation discounts the other person’s experience and generates emotional distance.
- Develop an understanding of yourself to understand others. In order to be empathetic, you need to understand your own feelings and biases, so that you can put them aside.
- Have the ability communicate our understanding of another’s feelings. Communication includes listening, acknowledging what is being said and building a connection. Using statements such as, “Tell me more about what happened” (or how it made you feel).
Like all models, the four attributes of people that exhibit empathy are a simplification of human psychology. The four attributes provide a path to becoming more empathetic (even though the devil is in the details).
Note to my readers in the United States: Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy your holiday and have time to reflect on the aspects of your life that make you thankful. Holidays like Thanksgiving are a great time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. Using holidays as a retrospective is one way to develop an understanding of yourself so that you can understand others.