How To Develop Your Empathy Skills

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Psychological science has defined the term in many ways, but simply put, it is “the ability to accurately perceive what the other person is feeling,” said Jennifer Lerner, psychological, scientist and Thornton F. Bradshaw professor of public policy, the decision of science and management of the Harvard Kennedy School in Massachusetts. His research focuses on the man of judgment and decision-making.

We need empathy because it inspires us to take action when we see that people are suffering, said Sarah Konrath, associate professor of philanthropy studies at Indiana University Lilly Family of the School of Philanthropy.

And “in a time like ours, where the Covid-19 pandemic and the brutality of acts of racism are the cause of much suffering,” Lerner added, it is important to understand what others are feeling, even if we do not share these feelings.

What better time than now to build your capacity to express the different types of empathy and practice in your daily life?

Types of empathy

Empathy is more about finding a common humanity, although sympathy involves feeling pity for someone of pain or suffering, Konrath said.

“While empathy is the ability to accurately perceive what the other person is feeling, sympathy is compassion or concern stimulated by the distress of another,” Lerner said. “A common example of empathy is to accurately detect when your child is scared and needs encouragement. A common example of sympathy is feeling sorry for someone who has lost a loved one. ”

Each of them is more called in different situations. But a “common mistake is to jump into sympathy before empathically understanding what the other person is feeling,” Lerner said. Two types of empathy can prevent this blundering relationship.

Emotional empathy, sometimes called compassion, is more intuitive and involves caring and worrying for others.

Cognitive empathy requires more and more systematic thought and effort, so it can lead to more empathy, accuracy, Lerner said. It involves, considering others and their views and imagining what it is like to be them, Konrath added.

Some work, managers and colleagues, for example, have practiced empathy for parents of juggling distance work with child care and virtual learning functions, said David Anderson, director principal of the National Spirit and Childrens awareness programs of the Institute, in an episode of CNN podcast “Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. ”

But since the pandemic started in March, empathy has disappeared, reflecting the idea that cognitive empathy takes effort.

It takes the job of interpreting what someone is feeling through all of its cues: facial expressions, voice tones, posture, words and more. Then you need to connect these clues, with what you know about him and the situation to be able to infer from his feelings.

“This type of inference is a very complex socio-cognitive task” that could involve variation in mental processes, Lerner said.

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You’ve probably heard of people who call themselves “empaths,” because they have been deeply touched by the struggles of others that they take on anxiety and emotional charge. But there is a difference between empathy and this condition, which psychologists call “emotional contagion.” ”

Massively feeling exactly what the other person is feeling when they are upset is actually a little self-centered and can lead to depression and a lack of well-being, Konrath said.

It also does not help the person who is struggling, as they would end up with a friend who feels as bad as they did and therefore does nothing to help them.

“Empathy does not require that someone share the feeling of the other even though it can sometimes imply that,” Lerner said. Emotional and cognitive empathy are best for you and the person who needs help.

Genetics or learned? What studies have suggested

Empathy is both a characteristic and a skill.

Some research has found that specific genes are associated with empathy, such as the genes that trigger oxytocin – the “love hormone” that gets up when we come into physical contact with another man, helping us bond, Konrath said. It can also influence human behavior and social interactions, such as recognition and trust.

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Most people have the fundamentals of the ability to be empathetic, Lerner said, which involves a brain network of the mirror neural system, the islet and the limbic system.

Mirror neurons mimic the actions and behaviors of others, and are linked to more intuitive, emotional empathy. The insulin regulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which control the response or escape, and relax the body, respectively. The limbic system regulates the functions of the body in response to emotional stimuli and reinforces behavior through memories.

“When we see someone else doing something in our body, we have a kind of parallel response,” Konrath explained. “If we see someone expressing an emotion, for a moment, you might feel a reflection of that emotion that can help motivate you to really understand what’s going on and try to help them. Which can help explain a little bit about how we are wired for empathy. ”

In this case, a lot of empathy, the processes are automatic, but they can also be activated in situations where you have an incentive to be deliberately empathetic – for example, when you try to read your mood manager.

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The other component of empathy is a quality of the environment, the sense that it can also be strengthened through socialization. Our culture, school, work and home and values ​​can strengthen or diminish our ability to express empathy, Konrath said.

One of the best ways to encourage empathy, Lerner said, is to create interdependence between people.

“If I can count on you for something,” she said, “can I be motivated to understand how you feel, and vice versa. “

Building and implementing your capacity for empathy

Empathy can be learned, and you can start by practicing the way you behave in your relationships with others, Konrath said.

When you talk to someone, try to imagine what their life is for them.

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Read his body language and use it for thinking or active listening, the purpose of which is to understand the person, rather than preparing to respond while he is speaking.

During conversations, focus all of your attention and time on listening, and then do what you can to make the person feel understood. To perceive his feelings, you can ask questions: “It looks like you are feeling depressed. Right? Or, “Is it fair to say that you are optimistic?” ”

Distraction led to less empathy, precision, according to a study by Lerner.

Spending time with babies, children, and pets can be helpful, Konrath, said – since they cannot express their needs verbally, you most intuitively have to assess their needs.

Awareness of the pain can feel overwhelming, so you could turn away from it – especially if you think you don’t have time to deal with it, Konrath said. But in difficult times, what people really need someone to be there – it’s not about saying the right thing, but rather about being present, listening and understanding.

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“Learning to regulate our emotions and the ability to tolerate negativity is very, very important for the maturity of empathy,” Konrath added.

The Benefits of Empathy

When you become more empathetic, the people in your life might feel more loved, cared for and cared for, Konrath said.

You might also feel more organized with others, be able to resolve conflicts quickly and achieve greater job satisfaction, Lerner said.

“If you don’t perceive that your child or your significant other is angry with you, you don’t have the knowledge to even begin to resolve a conflict,” she added.

A mindset focused on the needs of others can reduce stress hormones as well. Empathetic people score lower on the depression scales, Konrath said.

“Empathy is a biological system in our body which, of course, is going to be some sort of return benefit to the empathetic person,” Konrath said. “Being able to experience a hormonal change that will allow you to continue caring for someone is very important to human survival. “

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