I have high respect for people who are great at empathy because it’s a rare skill set to find in others.
A lot of people will claim to be great at empathy because they’re sympathetic or give great advice. This isn’t empathy, for instance:
Think back to a time where you were trying to be open and honest about your feelings with someone and after you shared they said, ‘oh you poor thing!’ or, ‘you know what you should’ve done was…’ or, ‘at least you…’
How did it make you feel? Unheard? Annoyed? Maybe you beat yourself up a little for sharing something vulnerable?
What I find interesting is how many of us are searching for connection but slamming the door shut on opportunities to connect because a vulnerability in others makes them so uncomfortable.
So when I got to section four of part one in Brené Brown’s Dare To Lead and it was all about empathy it only felt natural to share a recap of the best damn bits to the ins and outs of empathy.
Fair warning, I’m going to be doing a lot of direct quoting and paraphrasing because there is no other way to be this clear. Brené Brown you rock!
“Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”
“Empathy is a choice. A vulnerable choice, because if I were to choose to connect with you through empathy, I would have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling”
The 5 Empathy Skills You Need To Practice:
#1 – To see the world as others see it or perspective-taking. The worst thing you can do is believe your view is the only valid perspective. We have all been shaped by different life experiences.
“The biggest mistake we can make is believing we can take our lenses off and look through the lens of someone else. We can’t. Our lenses are soldered to who we are. What we can do is honor people’s perspectives as truth even if they’re different from ours.”
If you have to believe you ‘know it all’ then you’re not going to be able to be empathetic. To be great at empathy you must stay curious.
#2 – Be nonjudgmental, which is hard to do because everyone judges everyone. Based on research, there are two ways to predict when we judge: we judge where we are most susceptible to shame, and we judge people who are doing worse than we are in those areas.
Examine where you feel judgment because it’ll help you identify the part of you, you need to work on.
#3 – Understand another person’s feelings. #4 – Communicate your understanding of that person’s. (She puts them together because in order to understand another person’s feelings you have to be in touch with your own emotions.
Brown’s biggest message is to learn how to articulate what you’re feeling and uses an analogy about going to the doctor but not being able to tell him what hurts because you can’t articulate what you’re feeling which causes a dilemma for both you and the doctor and leaves both of you feeling frustrated.
Same thing when you’re not fluent in feelings.
#5 – Paying attention. If you’re having a conversation with someone and start to feel shame, anger, anxiety, etc. figure out why those feelings are coming up for you to better understand you.
The 6 Most Common Ways You Miss Moments To Share Empathy
#1 – Confusing sympathy for empathy. Empathy is feeling with people. Sympathy is a feeling for people.
#2 – The Gasp and Awe. ” In this scenario, your colleague hears your story and feels shame on your behalf–they might gasp, and they will likely confirm how horrified you should be. They’re appalled, upset and there’s awkward silence which leads you to make them feel better.
Example: I turned in my paper and felt really good about my writing, but then my principal called me into the office and told me two pages of it were missing which I had forgotten to attach.
You’re hoping the person listening will say, “Oh, man, I’ve done that. It sucks.” But instead, they gasp and say, “OMG I’d DIE if that were me.”
Suddenly you’re now trying to make the other person feel better.”
#3 – The Mighty Fall. You’re a perfectionist who tries your very best to do all the things right, great, and most efficient, but inevitably you screw up somewhere and share to someone about your flaw to which they reply, “I would’ve never expected that from you.”
#4 – The block and tackle. In this situation, you miss empathy by using anger or judgment to shift focus away from the vulnerability sitting on the table. Say you got a bad performance review at work and you tell a co-worker about it, her response sounds like scolding: ‘how could you let this happen? what were you thinking?”
The coworker looks for someone else to blame. “Who gave you a bad performance review? Let’s go kick his ass, or report him!”
#5 – The boots and shovel. This is the person who needs to make it better so that they can get out of their own discomfort. They refuse to acknowledge you can make mistakes or bad choices. They say things like, “it’s not that bad, it can’t be that bad, or, you’re awesome, you’re amazing.”
#6 – If you think that’s bad...this is where people confuse connection with an opportunity to one up. “That’s nothing. Let me tell you about the one time…”
7 Power Phrases for Expressing Empathy:
- Oh man, I feel you.
- I know that feeling and it sucks.
- Me too.
- I see you. You’re not alone.
- I’ve been in a similar place and it’s really hard.
- I think a lot of us experience that. Either we’re all normal or we’re all weird. Either way, it’s not just you.
- I understand what that’s like.
“Empathy is the most powerful connection and trust-building tool that we have, and it’s the antidote to shame. Shame is the never good enough emotion.”
Did anything up top resonate with you? I’d love for you to tell me down in the comment section. Let’s start a conversation and get curious!
Ps: who is also going to go buy Dare To Lead by Brené Brown and read it cover to cover next weekend? I’ll re-read mine with you 🙂
RamblinRandol is my journey back to loving myself. It’s an open letter on how I’m growing through what I’ve been through. And like Maya Angelou said, “the ache for home lives in all of us…” It’s time for me to feel at home in my own skin.
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