“Empathy: What it is, Why it Matters and How You Can Improve”


October 2022


Excerpts from: mastersincommunications.org


Empathy is a word that is used often by many people. It’s commonly known that empathy is a good thing to have, but it isn’t always a priority in people’s lives.

Did you know that 98% of people have the ability to empathize with others? The few exceptions are people who are unable to relate to other people’s feelings and emotions, often due to mental health diagnoses. While a large majority of the population is capable of empathy, sometimes the practice of it is limited. But what is empathy and why is it important?

Can empathy be developed or are we born with a certain amount? Are some people just naturally better at empathizing? Is it really as important as some people say it is to practice empathy?

Let’s dive in.


WHAT IS EMPATHY?

In simple terms, empathy is the ability to understand things from another person’s perspective. It’s the ability to share someone else’s feelings and emotions and understand why they’re having those feelings.

Many famous people have talked about the importance of understanding and empathy. Maya Angelou once said, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” Albert Einstein said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” Former President Barack Obama has said, “The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.” At the memorial service for the five police officers who lost their lives in Dallas in 2016, former President George W. Bush said, “At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.”


DIFFERENT TYPES OF EMPATHY

In an attempt to define what empathy is, people have created different categories of empathy. According to psychologist Daniel Goleman and Paul Eckman, there are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional and compassionate.


+ cognitive empathy: cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how someone else feels and to work out what they might be thinking.

+ emotional empathy or affective empathy: emotional empathy refers to the ability to share another’s emotions. This would mean when you see someone else who is sad, it makes you feel sad.

+ compassionate empathy or empathic concern: compassionate empathy is when you take feelings to actions. It goes beyond understanding and relating to other people’s situations and pushed an individual to do something.


WHY IS EMPATHY IMPORTANT?

Empathy is important in almost every aspect of daily life. It allows for us to have compassion for others, relate to friends, loved ones, co-workers and strangers, and it has a large benefit impact on the world.


IN PERSONAL LIFE: How does empathy help in a person’s personal life? Healthy relationships require nurture, care and understanding. A friendship or romantic relationship that lacks empathy and understanding will soon flounder. When people think only of their own interests, the other people in the relationship will suffer.


IN WORK LIFE: In what way is empathy important in the workplace? For many people, a workplace is a place for teamwork. For things that require a group effort, it’s extremely important to take the time to relate to co-workers. Even if people are not specifically working on one project, it is still important to get along with fellow workers. Using empathy is a vital part of a smooth working relationship. Without it, it’s much easier to fall into disputes and disagreements.

It is also highly important for management to use empathy. Bosses who lack empathy are likely to subject their employees to unfair practices. Managers who are without empathy may push employees to work beyond what is healthy and reasonable and may be unduly harsh when an employee makes a mistake.

Higher amounts of empathy in the workplace have been linked to increased performance, increased sales and better leadership abilities.


FOR THE WORLD: How does empathy impact the world? Empathy from a global perspective is infinitely important, especially when it leads to compassion. This type of empathy pushes people to dive in and help when there are major disasters. People are willing to help out others that they have never met because they know that they too would need help if things were reversed. Without compassionate empathy, the world would be a much darker and less functional place to live.


ARE PEOPLE BORN WITH EMPATHY OR CAN IT BE TAUGHT?

While there is some evidence that the ability to empathize is traced to genetic predisposition, it’s also true that empathy is a skill that can be increased or decreased.


Our next Montessori message will focus on how children develop empathy and what we, as adults, can do to help them with this process. Stay tuned……..

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