The Five Aspects of Empathy
Featured article authored by WISe Wellness Guild member Meagan Connley. Meagan helps people live in flow through releasing what keeps them stuck and reclaiming their power to create the life they want. Book a FREE 30 minute consultation with Meagan here.
Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.
- Brene Brown
Have you ever called someone in a time of need, asking for help, and left the conversation feeling worse? Thinking that they really weren't listening, and sensing that they just didn't see you? When we reach out in moments of shame, grief, or hurt, we need empathy to help us return to wholeness. But what exactly is empathy?
Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it is connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.
Brené Brown identifies five main aspects of empathy in her book Dare to Lead.
- Perspective Taking – this requires becoming the learner, not the knower. As a listener, we can bring curiosity and honor that what the person is sharing is their truth.
> Try saying 'tell me more' to get others to share their perspectives.
- Non-Judgement – It is natural that our brains quickly classify and make sense of things, and sometimes when we listen to the pain or stories from others, judgement arises. Generally, we judge others in areas we are prone to experiencing shame ("At least I'm doing better than that!"). If you find yourself judging, give yourself compassion, as this is a clue this is a hard issue.
> What if you assumed everyone was doing their best? How does this impact the judgements you have on others, and on yourself?
- Understanding the Emotions of Others – we need to have emotional literacy and be connected to our own feelings. There are at least 30-40 emotions we should be able to recognize and name in ourselves and others. Many of us only recognize and name a small portion of that (angry, sad, happy).
> When you find yourself feeling angry, sad, or happy, pause and explore – what else am I feeling? What else could be going on here?
- Communicating the Emotions of Others – once we can identify emotions and name them in ourselves, it gives us common ground to connect with the emotions of others. Empathetic listening can look like us reflecting back what we are hearing or observing about the other person, and allowing them to confirm that is the right emotion or say nope, that’s not actually it.
> This step can feel vulnerable - we are opening space to 'go there' and have a conversation about feelings. If you feel yourself getting stuck here, take a breath, get grounded, and remember that you can show up with curiosity and an open heart.
- Mindfulness – this involves not minimizing emotions, not exaggerating emotions, being present and in the moment and being aware of what the other person is saying and feeling, and what you are feeling.
> Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and the conversation. When in a conversation about feelings, notice (without judgement!) in your body what is coming up for you as you listen to the other person's experience.
When we aren't able to activate these skills as a listener, we can experience what Brené calls empathy misses – responses and reactions we have that prevent us from truly listening and connecting to the person sharing with us, and instead turn the focus of the conversation back on us. One of these is problem solving or advice giving. So many of us want to help others, don't want to see others suffer, and can instinctively reply with something like "Well have you tried X?" Sometimes, people do actually need help, and many times, people just want to feel seen and heard. If you struggle with jumping into solve-mode, try to notice this and insert a question, like – "Do you want to talk about a solution, or do you need space to process?"
Book a FREE 30 minute consultation with Meagan Connley here.
Leave a comment below about what it feels like for you when you share and are met with empathy, or a way you are growing this skillset.
For more empathy misses and tips for shifting into a more empathetic listening space, follow @meaganconnley on Instagram.
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Image one (inc. header image) by Julia Larson on Pexels.
Image two by Christina Morillo on Pexels.