Please Join Us!
When: Friday, April 26 @ 1 p.m. EDT (5 p.m. GMT; 10:30 p.m. IST)
Topic: How to Empathize With Me
All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being, not just with my hands but with my heart.
– Tahereh Mafi, U.S. author
About This Week’s Chat
How does it feel to be you? And how does it feel to be me? We can’t tell, because our only experience of living is to be ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel another person’s joy, pain, excitement, or sadness. We can all learn how to empathize.
Teacher in Tears, but Student Can Empathize
My father passed away almost three years ago. He was diagnosed with cancer only a few months beforehand, so we were prepared to a degree. We didn’t know that he would pass on so quickly, though.
Because I’m an external lecturer at a university, I have to make my schedule available a few months in advance. At the time I did so in January, I didn’t even know that my dad was terminally ill.
It so happened that I was scheduled to start with a new group of students only a week after my dad passed on. We said our final goodbyes to my dad on Saturday, and the following Tuesday, I stood in a lecture hall at 8 a.m. wearing my “best face.”
I was OK for the first hour. And the second. But halfway through the second session, grief overtook me. After briefly excusing myself from the class to get a handle on my emotions, I returned and explained my situation to them.
Taking a Break
The next thing I knew, a rugged looking six-foot-plus man stood up. “Don’t worry,” he said, “my dad also passed away two months ago.” With tears running into his beard he added, “I understand that it hurts a lot.” Then he turned to the rest of the class and said, “We need a five-minute smoke break anyway, don’t we?”
What stood out to me is that he did not get up and say, “I’m sorry to hear about your dad. Would you like us to give you a few minutes?” That would have been kind and sympathetic of him – and wholly acceptable.
However, I realised that he had acted on all three levels of empathy. He showed cognitive empathy (understanding), emotional empathy (feeling) and empathic concern (taking action).
He understood my hurt, and he felt my pain through his pain. He intuitively knew that I would probably welcome a short break, and he took his empathy a step further: by telling the class that they needed a break, he made sure that I could take a short break.
Isn’t it amazing that this man, a stranger to me, knew exactly how to empathise with me? How wonderful is that?
How to Empathize With Me
In our #MTtalk Twitter chat this week, we’re going to discuss how you want people to empathize with you.
Although there’s much talk about empathy, we don’t always get it right. You can be so focused on showing the way you want to receive it, that you don’t consider how someone else might want you to empathize with them.
In our Twitter poll, we asked what you understand by the word empathy. An overwhelming majority of participants agreed that it’s understanding someone’s feelings. Have a look at the poll results, here, and see if you agree with our respondents.
We’d love you to participate in the chat, and the following questions may spark some thoughts in preparation for it:
• How much is empathy a conscious or unconscious reaction, and does that matter?
• Do you prefer privacy, politeness or empathy? Why?
• When have you felt patronized by empathy? What happened?
• What might be the best way to respond to unhelpful empathy?
• What kind of empathy actually helps you?
• How can you be “tuned in” to how someone wants you to empathize?
To help you prepare for the chat, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to browse. (Some resources below may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club.)
How to Join
Follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the action this Friday! We’ll be tweeting out 10 questions during our hour-long chat. To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. You can join the chat by using the hash tag #MTtalk in your responses.