The importance of empathy

This time of year, our thoughts turn to spend time with our friends and our families to celebrate the festive season.  This year will be very different due to the pandemic.   Some people will have been affected much more than others losing loved ones, losing income and losing jobs.  Plans are in disarray as travel restrictions remain in effect preventing us from making journeys that we would have traditionally made whether locally, nationally or internationally.  The extent to how we interact with people will not be clear until much nearer the time; what we are allowed to within government guidelines and through what the science is telling us.  This year, more so than others, the importance of empathy is paramount.  We need to exercise higher levels of empathy.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is a highly misunderstood term.  When people think of empathy, they often think first about sympathy and compassion. However, empathy has a much broader in scope. Empathising with another person isn’t the same as sympathising with them. They are two completely different capabilities.  Empathy involves deep, active listening, which goes way beyond hearing and understanding the words being used. It is a very difficult skill to master.

There is nothing that you can do or say that will lessen the pain of someone’s loss.  They are looking for you to listen, to comprehend and to understand how they are seeing things and how they are experiencing things from their perspective.  If you have good empathy, you’re able to read between the lines of dialogue and discern through subtle variations on their face, in their eyes, posture and rhythms of speech what people are really thinking about when you’re talking with them.

Your natural impulse will be to consistently try to bring attention and recognition back to yourself. By overcoming this, you begin to develop clear intuitive senses that support your ability to be empathetic.  Empathy is about resisting these impulses during the course of an engagement or interaction with you.

Empathy and Choices

Everyone sees the world in different ways and interprets what is going around them differently.  Empathy seeks to understand these different viewpoints.   Whether there are differences in religious views, faith, traditions, your children’s upbringing, choices about what to do, what to eat, where to go, etc., etc.

The pandemic is going to force us to have to change our behaviour and our plans in many ways than in previous years.  We are all going to have to make choices the various guidelines, bits of legislation and the restrictions in place.  We do not have the same freedoms that we had previously.  Many of these have been changing almost daily and can be very confusing.

Aside from the pressures of the festive season, you will have to decide how you are going to behave and what you are going to do based upon events.  The guidelines are open to interpretation.  These are going to be affected by age, health, context, circumstances, knowledge, attitude, to name but a few.

Many of our family and friends will be making choices that will not be in alignment with our choices.  The differences in opinion are going to lead to big arguments that will challenge your thinking and will escalate if you let them. By using empathy, you will open up new levels of understanding, broaden your horizons, reduce arguments and lower stress levels for yourself and everyone around you.

So, this festive season if you can’t see eye to eye, try heart to heart. Remember the importance of empathy.  Empathy is seeking to understand someone else’s opinion and view.  You don’t have to agree with them, you just need to understand.

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I am an emotional intelligence coach, trainer, and facilitator with over 35 years’ business and commercial experience. I am the author of “The Authority Guide to Emotional Resilience in Business” and “The Authority Guide to Behaviour in Business” part of The Authority Guides series. I have the most comprehensive range of emotional intelligence courses available on the internet taken by over 250,000 learners in 175+ countries. If you would like to discuss how online learning can develop resilience, emotional intelligence, or leadership across your organisation, give me a call on 07947 137654 or email me at [email protected]