E is for Empathy

At Thanksgiving time, there is lots of conversation and sharing. It is a time to really listen to others, acknowledge what you’ve heard and show empathy. What is empathy? Empathy helps us to understand how people are feeling. Empathy helps us get in touch with our own feelings by being heard and understood.  It is an important emotional intelligence (EQ) skill as it helps us connect with others.

Empathy can be cognitive, emotional, or compassionate. Cognitive is the thinking part or being able to put yourself in the person’s situation and understand their perspective. In of itself, the cognitive piece is emotionless. In fact, inappropriately used, cognitive empathy could be used to take advantage of a person.

Emotional empathy comes in when you literally “catch” the person’s emotion and you can really embrace their feelings. This is very important to a point when too much emotional empathy can literally become overwhelming and even burnout the listener. This is where your own self-regulation and self-control become important.

Compassionate empathy is what we usually think of as empathy and is most appropriate and helpful to others. With this type of empathy, we listen and feel the person’s emotion, yet we keep our own emotion in check, provide an appropriate amount of sympathy to another person, support them, but don’t take on the emotion personally. This allows us to be reasonable and realistic as we use empathy to support others.

By showing empathy, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with others or feel the same way. You are simply letting them know that you have heard them and understand how they feel. The good news is, is that empathy can be learned. So, at this Thanksgiving time, take some time to practice as you are listening to others who need a little empathy.

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