Empathy Compassion: Feeling what it’s like to be in another’s shoes

“In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will merge as the leader, whether designated or not.”

Edwin Friedman, Generation to Generation

What does it take to untangle yourself from your emotions, your perspective, your issues and feel and experience what it is to be in the body of the person across from you?

This goes beyond Empathy Accuracy, which is knowing what another is experiencing. Empathy Compassion is the capacity to feel another person’s pain or joy and deeply know what it must be like to be them. It is a capacity that isn’t often taught nor that we all do naturally or consistently.  

Why is empathy compassion important?

Empathy is at the foundation of healthy, positive relationships. The individuals in relationship (at work or in your personal life) experience Increased connection, and increased trust with empathy. Empathy accuracy and empathy compassion facilitate empathetic interactions and are essential for successful conflict management, trust, collaboration and building a successful home and work environment.

How do you develop your empathy compassion?

The basis of empathy compassion is open hearted noticing and curiosity.

Practice: Be curious about what it’s like to be the other person

You can do this by listening to the radio, watching the news or video, having a conversation with someone in your day. This practice begins with curiosity and requires noticing and focusing on the other without judgement. Practice letting your heart feel what it must be like for the other. Things to practice noticing:

  • Tone of voice – do they sound calm, happy, energetic, stressed?
  • Facial expression – what would you notice if you were a video with no sound? What could this mean?
  • Body movements –  what is their posture, what else?
  • What else? If you were to write a story full of emotion based on what you notice, what would you say?

When you focus on the other person, notice how you are feeling: energized, sad, angry? When you can do this well, your own feelings will reflect what the other person is experiencing. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgement.

Practice drawn from EQ Fitness Handbook

How this played out for me yesterday

I have a long-time friend I call when I’m finding it hard to see another person’s perspective. When I call her, I’m stuck in my perspective, and I’m not looking for her to get caught up in my emotion. I want her to help me see and experience the other person’s perspective.  I did this yesterday when I was stuck in hurt (aka victim mode), and was dumbfounded that my partner did not show me empathy. Knowing there is always another side to things, I requested my friend give me a different perspective than my own. My friend, who knows me quite well, helped me see his perspective.

From here, I could draw parallels for how I may feel or act if I was in my partner’s situation. I was curious about what he may be feeling with his work and the client interactions, and what he may be wanting and needing in this situation leading to his actions. Voila (ok, after a while, it wasn’t immediate) there I was seeing his perspective and feeling what he could be experiencing: empathy compassion.  Then, I could easily step into an empathetic interaction and ask myself how I could support him.

What’s next?

You can build the empathy compassion muscles in your brain with practice. Once you have stepped beyond yourself and can see a person clearly and have compassion for them then you can move into more honest, open, respectful interactions. This will have a huge impact on your work and personal relationships.