What Empathy is NOT!

I think I can safely say that most people are much more familiar expressing themselves in conversation with others in ways that are NOT empathy than in ways that are empathic. The sad thing about this is that because we are not skilled in giving and receiving empathy, we are all deprived of the opportunity to experience the gift that empathy offers – a gift for both the giver and receiver.

Image courtesy of Michal Marcol/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you are not really listening, lack an emotional connection with who is speaking, and don’t care about what they are saying, feeling or needing . . . your involvement in the conversation may actually be less than neutral! In fact, it more likely ranges from being simply disengaged and uncaring to sliding into some degree of blame, judgment, or criticism and everything in between.

On the extreme end of non-empathy, we have blame, judgment and criticism. It is probably obvious that these are not empathy. But what are they really? They are our thoughts about the other person. So what’s so bad about judging, criticizing or blaming someone? Well, when we use any of these communication tactics in our response to someone, the feedback could not be more obvious nor usually more instantaneous – hurt feelings, reciprocal blame, judgment, or criticism, and even complete shutting down of the conversation. In the end, no one is heard and no one’s needs get addressed.

Being disengaged and not caring is also not empathy and like criticism, judgment, and blame, disengagement and lack of care are unlikely to build rapport or connection in your communication. When there is no rapport or connection in communication, it is unlikely to be a satisfying interaction for either person involved.

Another communication tactic we often use is trying to convince the other person that they are wrong – this also is not empathy. When you try to convince the other person that you are right, you are focused on yourself, not the other person. As I discussed in my previous blog on Empathy, empathy is being present with the other person’s experience.

Ironically, even agreeing with the other person’s experience is also NOT empathy!! This one always trips people up. How can agreement not be empathy? Isn’t empathy trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint? Well, yes, it is trying to see the world from their perspective, but it is not agreeing with them. That is simply agreement! When we agree with someone, we do not necessarily give them the opportunity for deepening their own self-awareness and knowledge. For me, a key component of empathy is helping the other person gain deeper insight into his/her own experience. Rather than looking outside of him/herself for validation that they are OK, or that their position, feelings or needs are valid, empathy provides an opportunity for a person to gain greater insight and trust of themselves.

And that, my friends, is one of the greatest gifts of empathy!

In support ~




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