Have you ever tried telling a friend something and he responded with, "If I were you, I would not be angry"?
What was your reaction? Did you get even angrier thinking, I'm sharing my feeling and he is shutting me up. He doesn't care!
What if you are the person saying those words with good intention to help? Do you feel misunderstood, hurt and rejected when she yelled at you? Why does she always overreact? What have I done wrong? Why can't she understand?
You're not alone! Both of you have similar needs. You'd like to be heard, be understood, be accepted!
But all we can do is seek first to understand than to be understood. Someone has to practice empathy first. How about you?
Empathy—that quality of recognizing and understanding another person's desires, beliefs and emotions—is one of the most important skills we can ever acquire. It fosters meaningful relationships, reduces prejudice and negative assumptions, encourages honest communication and can help avert violence. Studies have found that people high in empathy are more confident, sensitive and assertive, and they enjoy better physical and mental health. Often described as standing in another person's shoes or looking through the other's eyes, empathy connects us human-to-human. Take this quiz to see how well you practice empathy. Answer True or False to each set of questions.
1. If I don't know enough to understand, and empathize with, another's dilemma, I try to increase my knowledge by asking questions. True or false?
2. I recognize and remember that others are different from me and might see and feel things differently from how I might experience the same situation. I try to look at the situation through that person's eyes, not my own. True or false?
3. I don't need to be right about what I imagine the other person to be feeling. If I've misunderstood, I ask the person to help me correct my impressions. Doing so helps me learn more about the other. True or false?
4. When I show that I understand the other person's experience, I notice that the person I'm talking with opens up more. True or false?
5. My irritation with another person often dwindles when I understand what's going on inside him or her. True or false?
6. Being a good, active listener helps me "get" what someone else is going through. True or false?
7. I try to focus on the other person's feelings, rather than on actions or circumstances. I know that when people are upset, it's better to work through and handle their feelings before figuring out how to solve their problems. True or false?
1. If a friend complains about a boss at work, I'm likely to advise that person to find another job, change departments or speak up. I like to be helpful by offering solutions. True or false?
2. I'm always ready to offer a psychological analysis of my friends' troubles. True or false?
3. If a co-worker expresses anxiety about her relationship with her husband, I'm quick to reassure her that all couples have their little problems, and that she shouldn't worry about it. True or false?
4. It seems that I always know better than my friends what's behind or underneath their problems. True or false?
5. When family members are upset about something, I find a way to distract them or change the subject. True or false?
6. I'm quick to remind people that plenty of others are a lot worse off than they are. True or false?
7. When empathizing with others, I imagine how I would feel in a given situation and assume the same would be true for them. We're all basically the same, aren't we? True or false?
True empathy can only occur when we have successfully shed all preconceived ideas and judgments about others—and when we're comfortable with others' deep feelings. If you answered true more often to the second set than the first, you may benefit from learning more about how to respond with empathy, and how to really hear someone. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give another person.
"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James 1:19).
If you want some personalized training and coaching on empathy, please don't hesitate to call Winnis at 925-806-8600.
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications