Empathy in Relationships

Empathy is perhaps the most important relational skill. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and understand how they might be feeling in a given situation. The ability to listen empathically — relating to and understanding the perspective, position and feelings of others — is a tremendously important capability in both personal and professional relationships.

 We don’t need to have had the exact same experience or scenario in life to empathise with somebody else. As human beings, we all experience similar feelings of joy, sadness, loss, love, fear, loneliness, pride, shame, guilt, relief, and elation. If we listen in a way that allows us to relate to that common feeling or human experience, we can improve our connections and shared understandings with others.

 Empathy does not involve judgment, criticism, opinion or problem solving. We can not change or control other people’s feelings. Instead, we can help them work through their feelings by letting them experience being heard and validating their emotional responses.

 Sometimes people appear to have a larger emotional response than is appropriate to the situation at hand. This is because the event has tapped into a well of feelings from past/similar experiences. Their response may seem excessive or dramatic, but feelings are never “wrong.” They are normal responses to a person’s nature and nurture.

 Verbalising empathy allows the people in our lives to feel heard, known, understood and connected to us. It can diffuse conflict as once people feel heard, they may not feel the need to become increasingly defensive or aggressive to get their message across.

 As part of the human condition, we can all become self-absorbed at times and tend to look at things from our own perspective. Consciously stepping outside of ourselves and putting ourselves in the experiences of others (similar to identifying with a character in a movie) can increase our awareness and improve our relationships.


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