Empathy, as a word, is a rather recent import into the English language. The term was introduced in as recently as 1909 by psychologist Edward Titchener, as a variant of the German word “Einfühlung,” meaning “feeling into” (‘Empathy,’ 2008).
Empathy is in many sense a voyage of the mind. It affords us apropos reality what travel affords us apropos the world. A richer, deeper, and broader perspective and understanding, thus by consequence, true personal evolution. Each new person’s shoes we step into takes us on a journey into their version of reality – existence from their viewpoint.
BENEFITS OF EMPATHY
Connect Better With Others
One of the primary benefits of empathy is that it enhances our ability to connect better with others. By gaining the perspective of someone – be it a colleague or stranger – we begin to better comprehend their emotions, thus gaining greater emotional closeness amongst ourselves.
Resolves Conflicts Easier
In a situation of conflict, there is a natural positive consequence of gaining greater insight into someone’s emotions. Stepping into their perspective allows us to understand their arguments better, their reactions better and compare both to ours. This allows us to identify both common denominators and dissonances in our positioning and thus work towards bridging the gap in the latter using the former.
Broadens Your Perspective
We often view reality from a single prism. Seeing the world from the emotional seats of others allows us to step into a multitude of others’ shoes – in all shapes and sizes – and see the world from multiple perspectives. It gives us a clearer, richer, and more informed perspective on reality.
Be a Better Leader
The above traits are often key ingredients to great leadership practices. A combination of one’s ability to connect with one’s team, the ability to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings therein, and to make decisions from a broader, big-picture perspective can help truly transform one into a leader in the true sense of the word.
Reduce Negative Behaviour
Studies have shown that empathy can significantly reduce negative behaviour or actions which may be to the detriment to others. A paper from 2011 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Todd, Bodenhausen, Richeson & Galinsky, 2011) demonstrated that empathy can directly reduce instances of pre-existing bias. The Roots of Empathy research conducted over the course of seventeen years in Ireland (Connolly, Miller, Ke, Sloan, Gildea, McIntosh, Boyer, Bland, 2018) also demonstrated that greater empathy lead to reduced bullying among children.
Make Doing Good Instinctive
We are, to a large extent, designed to do what is overall in our best interest, based on the chemical reaction chain of emotions we have as a result of our circumstances and inputs. Empathy allows us to essentially replicate the sentiments and emotions of others facing a different set of circumstances to a varying degree. This thus promotes an altered chain of emotional reaction within us, to more naturally and instinctively do what is good for others.
Pathway to Greater Compassion
Our comportment with relation to the plight of others sits along a care scale comprising sympathy, empathy and compassion. While sympathy may be us feelings sorry for others, empathy allows us to begin to truly feel the pain of others. This progression along the scale drives us towards towards the sentiment of compassion, where we’re passionately moved to act – to ameliorate others’ suffering or make a difference.
4 WAYS TO PRACTICE EMPATHY
The good news – empathy comes built-in, to some extent, for most of us. German researcher Leonard F. Häusser has demonstrated through his work that our brain’s “mirror neurons” connect us socially to others and drives us to connect with them emotionally (Häusser, 2012).
Avoid Jumping to Conclusions
Our brains are paragons of energy and resource efficiency. This is partly achieved by us using pre-existing notions and beliefs to quickly reach conclusions, minimizing both the use of calories and time. However, if we actively engage our minds to contemplate circumstances pertaining to others, this affords us a greater opportunity to truly feel and react in a meaningful way.
Listening, truly listening to others is a skill. This entails actively paying attention without concurrently forming a response in our minds. By allowing space for others’ words to form a picture for us rather than using them as pieces to complete a preexisting narrative in our mind, we gain greater proximity to their perspective.
We may not always agree with others from the onset. But to truly empathise, it is important to learn to put aside and control any negative reactions we may have to or towards them. Allowing others’ ideas without prejudice affords them a clean slate and us the ability to connect with them in an unadulterated, authentic way.
While a breadth of perspective may be a consequence of empathy, thinking broadly may be a catalyst for it. A non-parochial perspective of our actions and reality – not confined to our immediate reality – allows us to extend our emotional connection to those who we may not have otherwise. This maybe be factory workers who produce our merchandise to marine life at our mercy. By thinking about those who we may not be directly interacting or affecting but who may be indirectly affected by our actions, we allow them emotional capital in our hearts and instinctively modulate our behaviour to their benefit.
Connolly P. Miller S, Kee F, Sloan S, Gildea A, McIntosh E, Boyer N, Bland M. (2018). Roots of
Empathy. Retrieved from https://www.rootsofempathy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/
Empathy. (2008). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from
Häusser, L. F. (2012). Empathy and mirror neurons. Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie.
Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22957393
Todd, A. R., Bodenhausen, G. V., Richeson, J. A., & Galinsky, A. D. (2011). Perspective taking combats
automatic expressions of racial bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(6),
1027–1042. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022308