Often when we show empathy with someone, we only see what’s sits on the surface. We don’t see what’s underneath. We may struggle with being empathetic if we don’t feel the same way as the other person or we haven’t experienced what they have or are experiencing.
We can make the right replies and say the right things thinking we are being understanding, however, we can’t and don’t know exactly how the other person is feeling and so being empathetic is often only high level.
The things we see in others i.e. what’s on the outside, what they are wearing on their sleeve is their body language which we may notice is different or ‘down’. We may notice their facial expressions or their changed behaviour – communication and interaction will or may be different.
Like an iceberg, this is just what’s seen, however, the things we can’t see perhaps is their lost, their past, the trauma they may have gone through or still going through. We can’t see their struggles and how this is affecting them. We can’t see or feel their feelings nor their pain or even read their thoughts. Their past is theirs and flood their thoughts perhaps with bitter regrets.
All of these and many more things we can’t see are happening which we can’t know, feel, understand nor comprehend.
So now we see why empathy is important, how might we be able to show empathy to others?
Here are some tips for practicing empathy:
- Listening – work hard on really listening (not just hearing) to what the other person is saying without interruption and really ‘feel’ their situation; you may not agree with how they’re feeling but trying to understand how they are feeling is important
- Body language – being attentive to how their body language or non-verbal communication is different (if you know them) or is it withdrawn if you don’t; be mindful of tuning in to this and responding accordingly
- Understanding – there is a difference between agreeing and understanding. We may not agree but we need to really understand what they are going through, how they are feeling and why; putting yourself in their shoes, imaging you are or were them
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