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Practicing Empathy

Do you have Empathy® as a dominant talent theme?

Empathy is one of those themes that concerns people if they don’t have it in their list of “top five” when they first discover their talents.*  “I always thought of myself as an empathetic person!”  However, many of us – including myself – may not be fully aware of the full definition of empathy.  It’s not only understanding the feelings of another person, but sharing those feelings – really feeling them as if they’re you’re own.  My sister, who has Empathy at the top of her list, says it can often be exhausting because she can feel when others are sad, frustrated, or angry.  The upside is that she can anticipate the needs of others easily.  With her children, she can often sense how they feel before they start displaying signs of it.  Although one may also argue that this is another superpower of being a mom!

Empathy takes a lot of practice to show toward others if it doesn’t come naturally.  Brene Brown has a fantastic video that demonstrates one of the most prominent aspects of empathy that I had never considered: empathy doesn’t include the phrase “at least.” When someone says “I am sad that I can’t afford to buy this new car” and you respond with “at least you have a car already” you are not showing empathy.

This realization blew my mind.  I had been communicating with my sister (and others) in a way that I thought was positive. By saying, “at least you still have ____,” I was showing her the silver lining and the positive side, right?  Perhaps.  But perhaps this is not what she needs right now.  It doesn’t validate her feelings. When you say “at least ___” you are not opening yourself up to understand where that person is coming from or what he/she is feeling at that moment.

I have an example of empathy from another friend that really struck me recently. I vented to her about some big things that I was frustrated with in my life – and when I finished, I held my breath waiting for the solutions she was going to offer to “fix” my problems or cheer me up.  Instead she took a breath and said, “wow, this must be so hard for you.”  It was the best answer that I didn’t even know I needed.  Not only did I feel validated, but I felt like she really understood what I was feeling at that moment.  She offered no judgement, no suggestions, just empathy.  I could have cried by how much she made me feel heard.

The next time my sister asks me “what’s wrong” I know she’s practicing her empathy.  I know she’s sensing my needs before I can even understand them myself and she’s trying to reach out and tell me she’s here for me.  This is an amazing quality to have and I’m always grateful when I’m on the receiving end of it.

What does empathy look like in your life?  Do you notice when others are showing it toward you?

*If you have no clue what this sentence meant, have no fear!  We’re talking about the 34 talent themes that are a part of the Clifton StrengthsFinder® Assessment. This is the basis for the Strengths Coaching that I provide.

StrengthsFinder®, Clifton StrengthsFinder®, and each of the 34 Clifton StrengthsFinder® theme names are registered trademarks of Gallup, Inc.

 

About The Author

Page Patten
Strengths-based Coach and Owner of Glass Always Full.

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