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Empathy - A Two Way Street

#emotionalintelligence #empathy #eqfit May 15, 2023

Empathy. That one word raises many questions.

  • What is it?
  • How do I practice it?
  • What value is there in being empathetic?

Many people confuse sympathy with empathy. An easy way to think of differentiating the two --  sympathy is detached, empathy is engaged and involved.

Six Seconds, a global emotional intelligence organization defines empathy as, "Recognizing and appropriately responding to others’ emotions." I would add to that understanding other people's perspective and perceptions. Empathy is a process of being curious, not judgmental. It is an authentic caring about the other person's feelings and perspectives. Roll in some compassion and grace, and you get a better feel for what empathy applied looks like. How well are you listening? Can you understand the situation from the other person's perspective? How do you respond to them?

Why is empathy important?

It facilitates:

  • Quality relationships
  • Better insight into what others are experiencing
  • The ability to have crucial conversations that bring desired results
  • Increasing leadership effectiveness
  • Collaboration and connection
  • Trust building

I could go on, but the fact is that we as human beings are created to be in community with other people. For us (and them) to enjoy that connection and community more, we need to practice empathy. Have you ever tried to build a relationship based on just what you wanted? How well did that work?

Relationships are a two-way street, where each person invests in the relationship. Have you noticed that the strongest relationships are based on giving, not getting? Especially when both people are giving equally to each other. That is based in empathy. How can you give effectively to someone else when you don't understand what they truly need?

Empathy is the doorway to understanding other people. You do not have to agree with them, or compromise your beliefs and values. But to effectively connect with other people,we need to be able to understand where they are coming from. What is impacting their life? What is the emotional environment they are living in?

How to practice empathy

Remember that relationships are a two-way street and take an investment of self by both people to be strong relationships. However, that does not stop you from practicing empathy. Empathy is not dependent on the other person receiving it. It is a way you invest in the other person. It is your choice to practice empathy with them.

Other things to look for:

  • How often do you suppress emotions?
  • Do you avoid thinking about emotions?
  • Do you place more merit on rational data over emotional data?
  • Are you more judgemental or more curious?
  • When people you interact with come out of an interaction with you, how do they behave?
  • What level of care do you have for others?
  • Is what you want more important than what someone else wants?
  • Do you feel like other people just don't understand?
  • How important is it for you to be right?

All of these are good checks on your ability to practice empathy. You can see where many of these will come down to how important your interests are over other people's interests. In short, self focus over other people focus.

Empathy is also a two-way street. Here is a short video that explores this: Empathy is a two way street

There are specific actions and choices you can make to practice empathy and grow this EQ skill:

  • Be curious instead of judgmental.
  • Check your bias. You may not believe the same things the other person does, but that does not make them less important or worth less respect.
  • Respect is a companion to empathy. If we respect other people it is easier to practice empathy with them.
  • Understand that as well as you know someone, there is still much about them that you may not know:
    • Their current beliefs and the rules they live by
    • Their self-talk
    • Their current emotional environment
    • What personal issues may be impacting them
    • Their stress levels
    • What triggers strong emotions for them
    • What embedded patterns they may have
    • Past experience or trauma in their lives
  • Come up with new patterns for yourself to choose to practice empathy
    • Don't negate the needs of others
    • Take time to connect and understand the other person
    • Believe that you can operate with empathy
    • Come up with a few questions that will open the door to better understanding of the other person's situation, perspective, and feelings
    •  Reflect on how you practiced empathy after the interaction

Empathy is a skill that can be learned and grown. The greater your capacity and ability to practice empathy, the greater your opportunity to have a more successful and enjoyable life.


For more, check out our other resources:

EQFIT® YouTube Channel


EQFIT® Podcast

 Copyright © 2023 EQFIT® - Author: Steven Goodner. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except as permitted by U.S. copyright law. For permissions contact: [email protected].

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