Human need to be understood is probably the greatest need. We all want to be understood, once we are understood we are willing to do practically anything for others. For one to be understood others around us have to learn and practice empathy. What’s empathy? Most simply put, empathy is putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. It’s showing deep care and understanding to others life situation, feelings and emotions “in the now”.
When we are not understood, all our fears and negative emotions pour out. So when this need is so strong in us, why is it that we are so stingy in being empathetic? Why do we wait for others to show understanding and make a trade of empathy? Why not make empathy our own habit and a way being?
Empathy is not agreement
Many of us are afraid that if we empathize with someone’s situation, we may be agreeing with their position and we may have to do what they want. Many of us even think that we have to make others realize “they are wrong” for them to change and do what is good for them. As friends we mean well but in the end are not able to help the other as the desire “to be understood” from both sides just drains both sides without anyone feeling good.
The reality of human behavior is exactly opposite. We as humans are open to listening and changing once we are acknowledged and understood. So it makes sense to suspend our solutions and our need to be understood and focus on being empathetic. This focus on empathy lowers the communication barrier and makes way for positive steps.
While we may disagree with someone on some matter, showing empathy tells the other person that we value the person beyond their current situation, constraints, and current disagreements on some matters. This act of “valuing” the person is what builds great human bonds needed for mutual growth.
Empathy is seeing best in others
Many people confuse between empathy and sympathy and stay aloof as they don’t want to give sympathy. The key difference between empathy and sympathy is how you see the other person deep down. Do you see them as weak and a helpless victim or do you see them as strong and capable of being successful. Once we align ourselves to see the best in people, empathy becomes easy and natural.
When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you. Susan Sarandon
How to be more empathetic
Being empathetic is not a common skill or something we learn around us or in school. Here are some simple tips on how we can be more empathetic:
- Suspend all judgment and problem solving – the focus on resolving problems too early makes the other misunderstood
- Use phrases like – “I can understand this makes you feel…” or “I can only try to understand how difficult this may be for you”, don’t pad sentences with any terms such as “but” or “try to understand” or “it’s not so bad”
- Reinforce positive qualities in the person – “I know you meant well when…” or “I know you are a family man and you really tried to…”
- Use a lot of silence – many times just peacefully being there with care conveys more than words
- Be reflective – don’t convey any new material – new information – or new ideas – simply reflect back whatever the other person is saying. Take their lead on what they want to talk about; that way you will know what they feel and what is important to them.
I leave you with a simple and powerful thought.
The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy. Meryl Streep