The Principle Of Empathy
“Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.” - WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Dear friend, we live in an interdependent world. No one can be an island unto himself. Each day we interact with people whose background, culture, gender, age, social position, occupation, religion-might be vastly different from our own. If we are to reach our full potential in life, we must learn how to live, work and team with others. We must not only expect to receive the best from them, we must give them our best as well. We must learn to live harmoniously with others. One important principle for the achievement of such a laudable goal is the Principle of Empathy.
Eleanor Roosevelt taught: “Approach each new person you meet in a spirit of adventure. Try to discover what he is thinking and feeling; to understand as far as you can the background from which he comes, the soil in which his roots have grown, the customs and beliefs and ideas which have shaped his thinking. If you care enough to make the effort, you can establish an understanding relationship with people who are entirely outside your own orbit.” You empathize with somebody when you imagine his thoughts and feelings in a particular situation and respond with care.
The more we empathize with someone, the more we come to appreciate and reverence them for who they are. As human beings we have our moments of magic when we feel happy and times when we feel a little down because of disappointment, illness, broken relationships, a heavy loss, accidents. There are days we may feel lonely, anxious and worried. Some situations can give us a lot of stress. Under these situations life can be hell. This is the time we need someone to lean on, someone who can share the pain with us.
To feel empathic towards others is to listen keenly with the intent to understand their situation and offer them relief if possible. We want to share in their pain. You can better do this by placing yourself in their situation.
Unfortunately, some people do not listen with the intent to understand but with the intent to reply when the other person has finished speaking. They are busy filtering everything through their own perspective rather than from the other person’s frame of reference.
To gain empathy for another, we must listen with our mind, heart and ears. We want the other person to feel important so they can freely express their thoughts and feelings. If we encountered such a situation before but emerged strong, we can tell them to do the same. Such a listening exchange benefits both parties. The one who offered the solution and the one who received it.
If you meet someone who is in distress, he is not interested in a similar tale from you. What he probably needs the most is your company, someone who will listen and appreciate the problem and be caring. Listening without caring is meaningless.
The poor attitude of some people can actually exacerbate an already bad situation. Let’s look at a few examples: How would you feel if the friend you are talking with is busy browsing the internet instead of listening to you? How would you feel if after talking to someone, he turns round to say ‘ sorry’ I wasn’t actually listening to you, what did you say? What about waiting several hours to see another person with your complaint who eventually tells you his time was up and that you should see him the following day? I guess you wouldn’t be happy.
You are truly a friend if you give your friend a listening ear at all times, not when it suits you. Empathy requires sacrificing part of our time to listen to others in order to help them out of their predicament.
Sometimes the most challenging requirement of empathy is holding your tongue when tempted to reply, give counsel or share your own stories. You are wise if you remain silent even as you listen. Hear Dale Carnegie when he said: “At a party once, I found myself talking with a botanist. I sat fascinated while he told me astonishing facts about the humble potato. After I said good night, the botanist turned to our host, paid me several compliments and ended by saying I was a “most interesting conversationalist.” An interesting conversationalist? I had said hardly anything. But I had listened intently, and he felt it.”
It is said that empathic listeners can even hear what is being said in silence. Management expert Peter Drucker once remarked: “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Our body language speaks a lot about us. By looking at a person’s facial expression, we can deduce whether he is happy or otherwise.
When we listen to others we can gain an insight into their thoughts and feelings. This will help us to build a better relationship with them. This can help us succeed in our endeavours. Bill Gates puts this way: “Your most unhappy customers is your greatest source of learning.” Feedback can help us fashion new ways of doing things and thereby bring the needed changes and improvements.
In conclusion, the Principle of Empathy is a success building tool. It enhances our ability to forge better relationships with all manner of people. Your goals can only be achieved when you effectively collaborate with others. Listening with the intent to understand others and respond with care is a great way to live your life daily.
Yours in inspiration,
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