5 thoughts on “Empathy isn’t out of reach, in fact…it’s pretty easy to teach!

  1. I am with you! This is why I am such a fan of the humanities is that I believe they teach MANY things but one of the most important is empathy. Reading and experiencing other people’s emotions and thoughts makes people more prone to empathize with them. I LOVE all of your techniques to develop EQ. I cannot even imagine how much of a better place the world would be if people were better at this. Great post.

    1. Yes, absolutely about the humanities. So much is to be gained from stories, literature, and writing. I am delighted with your reaction to my suggestions too – I do many of these things with my daughter (7-years) and her friends, and they love it – it’s fun. The emotion-guessing-game is really fun, as is “I’m going to Paris.” Thanks for taking the time to share your comments!

  2. I have a question about the definition and application of empathy. I thought sympathy was the one that registers others emotions…sympathy relate to another because perhaps I have had similar feelings. As I have learned through nonviolent communications…Empathy is actually more powerful….because I take me and my experiences out of it entirely. I am just pure presence witnessing anothers experience. No judgment…no shame no celebration or even mutuality. Just divine presence coming through me. A holding space for the divine to hold the person…not me.

    Am I hung up on symantics? Surely when I give empathy…there is always a part of me that does sympathize and knows intimately what the person is going through…because I too….have had that feeling. Any way….I also see the danger in getting to caught up in the energy….and bonding to it.

    Feels more pure and aligned for both me, the coach, or friend or parent…and the client or other person, child etc…….for me to stand in my own alignment allowing presence ( god essence ) to deliver the sounding board/space for the other person. To be the witness of another persons experience with out judgement. To celebrate their beingness. Not hugging…warming and soothing……….necessarily……unless needed and wanted.

    Would love to hear your ideas on this. And YES….I am on board. Thank you for your great article.

    1. Hi Sally,
      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts. I am happy to answer your questions and am delighted that you are on board!

      Semantically, sympathy is the ability to recognize others’ emotions for what they are, whereas empathy has an added layer of perspective taking, where you not only recognize the emotion, but you feel it too. That’s why feelings of empathy are more powerful motivators — BECAUSE you feel, not because you don’t. When interacting peer-to-peer, which is the interplay I had in mind when writing this post a little over a year ago, the personal “standing in someone else’s shoes” feelings are necessary motivators: when you feel someone else’s discomfort, you are motivated to relieve that discomfort because it benefits both you and the other person. Further, in order to reasonably resolve the conflict, both partners do need to be able to acknowledge the other’s side and empathy enables such acknowledgement. Doing so requires the ability to keep a lot in mind at once: your personal feelings, your partner’s feelings, and some third “reaction” or the goal state for the resolution. That’s what the exercises I suggest above will enable, eventually.

      However, when you are in a different role, say as a counselor or mediator, where you are helping others resolve their disagreements as an outside party, then you do want to avoid too much personal involvement because that can derail your ability to objectively support conflict resolution. But at the same time, you also need to be able to coach or support the others in seeing each others’ side, so that both have buy-in for the resolution. Otherwise, all that’s happening is “taking sides,” which is usually counter to the aims of conflict resolution. On that note, you are correct in stating that operating as a non-judgmental sounding board for them is key too. You always want your clients (or peers, or family members) to feel supported and no judged when you are helping resolve conflict.

      Hope this helps clarify my perspective for you.

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About EricaK

As a professor and a parent, I think a lot about education. Turns out that the topics I teach (e.g., cognitive and developmental psychology) inform my thoughts about teaching, and that is what I want to write about here.