If you are a fan of design thinking, AKA, human-centered design, then you should probably have heard of empathy, which is the first step in design thinking, to align with users and gain insights from their values, attitudes, behaviors, etc. If you have a social work background, then I bet you have also heard of empathy, which is the basic attitude and belief we should have when providing services to our beneficiaries. And if you come from a psychology background, then empathy is not strange to you as well since there’s person-centered therapy, which focuses on being empathetic and leads the clients to talk, in an attempt to fully understand their thoughts and feelings. Empathy is everywhere and can indeed lead us somewhere.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position according to Wikipedia. Empathy is initially an emotional stage, and it includes cognitive empathy, emotional (or affective) empathy, and somatic empathy. It is a soft skill and hard to define and measure, that’s why we should acquire it since the artificial intelligence may take over most of our jobs in the future, but it can hardly tap into our emotional level, let alone our empathy skill.
It is a clear requirement to be empathetic if you work in the non-profit sector or social business, where the disadvantaged group is served with dignity and love, especially when your identity is a social worker and psychologist. What about other sectors? For a long time, the market has been adopting the idea of empathy and applying it to the most well-known field, such as the design thinking methodology, UX design, user research and etc, where innovative ideas come from not only to generate innovative products and services but also to drive sales and build long-term relationships with users.
Furthermore, the international organization Ashoke developed a course on empathy, to raise awareness and to educate the public on empathy, because they think that empathy is the fundamental characteristic of achieving better personal development and is also the root of building an exclusive society. There is a Canadian organization, Roots of empathy, is providing empathy training to kindergarten kids, aiming to empower them with empathy skills and use it to change the world when they grow up. They have reached over one million children globally and have researched to prove the impact, their focus is on reducing aggression, increasing sharing, caring and inclusion, and promoting resilience, well-being, and positive mental health.
So empathy is not only about the individual’s well-being and benefits, but also about how to change and build the world.
Being empathetic acquires you to believe that every human being is valued and respected, and there are some tips for you to get a taste of being empathetic if you are a novice, and you can also refresh yourself and reflect upon what you are familiar with. (reference to Celestine Chua and Elliot D. Cohen Ph.D)
- Put yourself in the person’s shoes. You will never know what things a person is undergoing, their happiness, sorrow or regret, etc, so in order to put yourself in their context, you need to imagine you are going through the same problem right now and try to understand things from their perspective. It is quite hard to imagine at first, and practice or meditation can help.
- Show care and concern. This is the capacity to be present, as I have mentioned in my earlier post. Show them your care and concern is not only state your present status but also display the connection and a genuine attitude.
- Acknowledge or reflect on person’s feelings. Acknowledgment means recognizing the importance of the thing that they are sharing, and showing that you are listening and that you do care about the sharing. Reflect means clarify what another is saying to foster understanding. It is crucial to respond to emotions because it determines whether to continue the bonding or to shut off.
- Do not judge. Again, you can’t judge a person without looking at the whole picture. First, judgment can impede sharing and openness. Second, no one has the right and reasons to judge someone based on their talk, opinion, or other aspects.
- Connect with the target. ‘Suspending your own value judgments, while putting yourself in the subjective shoes of the target, is essential to empathizing. ‘ When you listen to them, you also need to respond and ask questions to develop your narratives in order to understand them better.
- Use self-disclosure as appropriate. A certain level of self-disclosure can be a useful and powerful way of connecting with shared values when it is relevant and not excessive. ‘It can promote resonance between you and the target through expression of shared experiential encounters that engender shared, interpretations, interests, and values.’
Empathy is a virtue or excellence of being human, Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D said. It can not only apply to your daily life, with your friends, family members, colleagues, but also with your clients, to foster good relationships and learn from them and find opportunities to develop and achieve business objectives. Practice empathy, and harness a better self and a better world.
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