Last month I chatted with parents about listening skills and a key aspect of being able to listen effectively is practicing empathy.  Being able to see it as our youth see it, hear them, understand how they are feeling, communicate feeling with them……these are some key tools to creating positive relationships.  In the midst of what might seem like a chaotic world you can create moments of connection through listening and understanding. 

So, I dug up a previous blog I shared on this topic.  Read and consider where you have the opportunity to be empathetic with the youth in your span of care.  Then join us for our next workshop where we join empathetic listening with honestly expressing our needs. 

Empathy grows grace

Been there done that……we all have.  We all have something that causes us to feel like we screwed up, have to back track and make amends.  When it happens publicly, dang, we want to just bury our heads under the covers and wait for it to pass.

I recently received an email in one of my email accounts with a public apology from a colleague.  It went out to thousands of recipients.  It seems that there was a technical error and we had all received a promotional email in error and it was in conflict with the professional relationship to the sender.  Ugh.  The apology was well worded, totally reasonable, stated the resolution to the problem, professional.  This could have happened to anyone.  But it happened to her.  Ugh.  I literally felt a punch to my gut, and I was not the one that the erroneous email and subsequent apology was associated with.  Ugh.

Empathy (as described by Theresa Wiseman) is the ability to, see it as another sees it, stay out of judgement, recognize a feeling in another and communicate that feeling to them.

This could have happened to anyone, but it happened to my friend.  If I apply the aspects of empathy, I should be able to:

  • Understand how horrible she likely felt, realize that if this happened to me, I would be so hard on myself, see that it was not intentional but a mistake that had to be publicly amended for and consequently embarrassing.
  • Not judge. How quickly we are able to be upset by an action of another or build ourselves up by trying to convince ourselves that we never would have done whatever we are judging in another.  Label an action with a judgement word, silly, erroneous, irresponsible, unprofessional…. pick one.  To stay out of judgment, I try to imagine what it would feel like to have someone think or feel those things about me.  That sucks so why would I do that to someone else?  I don’t want to be that person.
  • Recognize a feeling in another, well that could be a list that looks like, embarrassed, irritated, disappointed, humiliated, shame, guilty
  • Communicate that feeling. My empathy was on high for her so I emailed her and said, ‘hey, this error must be so irritating for you and even embarrassing.  We have all done something like it in our lives, I get it.’  I went on to say that all was good on my end of the breach. 

This is what empathy looks like.

There is a fifth aspect of empathy.

  • Mindfulness, an awareness of what is happening. This is where the grace grows.  When we can step back for ourselves and others and begin to recognize what might be happening for them, we create a connection, an understanding that I am just like you or you are just like me.  I know what it is to feel embarrassed and irritated by an error made, this connects me to my friend even before I reached out to her.  I can also realize that the grace I easily gave her is a gift I can give myself the next time I make a public error or feel embarrassed or irritated by my own actions.  In my moment of pause and awareness I am growing my ability to have acceptance for my friend in this moment AND teaching myself what it feels like to have acceptance for me… that is a really intriguing thought. 

Empathy is not exclusively a gift I give others; it is a gift I give myself.

Reference notes:

There are so many references to the work Theresa Wiseman shares on the aspects of empathy it was impossible to identify the original source.  Clearly empathy is key in many relationships.  We did want to share a few videos to help with our understanding of empathy.

Brene Brown – Empathy Versus Sympathy

Brene Brown – Empathy Versus Sympathy (edit for youth)

Inside Out – Sadness Comforts Bing Bong

Love this clip!  How often do we try to move on from difficult things without acknowledging the feelings we are experiencing?  Once we experience the feeling we can move forward.

One book amongst many that popped into my mind on this topic….Marc Brackett, Ph.D – Permission to Feel