What is Empathy?

Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy)

Also, empathy is distinctly different from sympathy. 

Watch the fun, short clip below to understand how:


Furthermore, empathy is a skill that can be developed.  Dr. Brené Brown has identified 4 attributes of empathy that can be used as an empathy checklist.

#1 attribute: perspective-taking.

This is the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

For example, your friend just shared about a hard day at work.  Have you ever had a hard time at work?  What was that like for you?  What do you think it is like for them?

#2 attribute: stay out of judgment.

Sharing something vulnerable can be hard and it is important to focus on what the other person is sharing and how they are feeling.  This helps to maintain trust and openness.

What not to do – Making judgments or assumptions is a quick way to shut down openness and trust.

#3 attribute: recognize the emotion someone else is feeling.

Don’t be afraid to ask or verify the emotion – this will let them know that you are really listening to them.

For example, it sounds like today was really frustrating at work, did I get that right?

#4 attribute: communicate that you understand the emotion they are feeling.

Practice reflective listening, name it, and ask how they would like support in feeling that way. Most importantly, remember to keep listening!

For example, I heard you say you are feeling exhausted and hopeless, can you tell me more about that? 

Other empathy tips:

  • Put your phone away and be fully present with your friend.
  • Ask your friend if they would like you to just listen or if it would be helpful to ask questions or give advice.
  • Be aware of physical cues.  Some friends like distance when sharing something vulnerable and hard, while others may want a hug.  The amount of eye contact is another physical cue that can vary for each person.
  • Don’t be so afraid of getting it wrong, that you don’t try!  We are all human – trying our best. Let your friend or loved one know that it’s okay to tell you if they need something different.

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Vermilion.

Link to homepage www.couragepsych.com

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