Posted by: magnussonllc | December 1, 2009

Empathy Strategies

Empathy refers to the ability to identify the thoughts and feelings of another person—to understand another person’s point of view. Empathy is the feeling relationship in which one person understands the other person as if he or she was the other person.  Empathy emphasizes understanding.

There are four levels of empathy:

Recognition: Recognition is being able to recognize and know how another person is feeling. You cannot share the other person’s feelings unless you know what those feelings are.

Resonance: When you understand—not just recognize the other person’s emotion—this is emotional resonance. It cannot occur without emotion recognition, but emotion recognition does not necessarily generate emotional resonance. Resonance is understanding the other person’s emotions—it is not about sharing the feeling. This would be sympathy.

Compassion (action): Compassion is a third, separate concept. In compassion you want to help the other person. You will not know what they are feeling unless you have emotion recognition. It is arguable whether you must have emotional resonance to feel compassion. Compassion can follow emotion recognition without any emotional resonance, but frequently the emotional resonance is a motivator to act compassionately, and thereby help other people reduce their emotional storm. The fact that I recognize your feelings does not mean I will become compassionate. I may not care.

Altruism: All altruism is compassionate. However, it goes one step further. It involves some risk to your own welfare when you recognize and act on the feelings of the other person.

To show empathy

To show empathy is to identify with another’s feelings. It is emotionally putting yourself in the place of another. The ability to empathize is often directly dependent on your ability to feel your own feelings and identify them.  If you have never felt a certain feeling, it will be hard for you to understand how another person is feeling. This holds equally true for pleasure and pain. If, for example, you have never put your hand in a flame, you will not know the pain of fire.  Reading about a feeling and intellectually knowing about it is very different than actually experiencing it for yourself.

For this process to work, the first step is that we must be able to experience our own emotions. This means we must be open to them and not distract ourselves from them or try to numb ourselves from our feelings.

Next, we need to become aware of what we are actually feeling — to acknowledge, identify, and accept our feelings. Only then can we empathize with others. That is one reason it is important to work on your own emotional awareness and sensitivity– in other words, to be “in touch with” your feelings

There are 5 other empathy strategies that we can use:

  • Assuming best intent
  • Acknowledging commonality
  • Appreciating differences
  • Practicing optimism
  • Establishing trust
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