Have you ever started a new job and got asked to complete a 15 page personality test to see what your strengths and weaknesses are? No matter which test I do or how many times I’ve done it, my number 1 strength is always empathy. For something that is inbuilt and comes so naturally to me, I have struggled to understand how others cannot be empathetic when tricky / sad / traumatic / fearful etc situations and conversations arise. But being married to someone that’s more on the opposite end of that spectrum, I’ve quickly realised that not everyone is created like me (and thank goodness for that!). There are some things we are good at and others we are not, but it just goes to show we all need some educating in the parts that may not come naturally.
So let’s go on an empathy journey, because in the times we are living in, there is always more needed to go around! When we find ourselves disagreeing on so many things (hello politics and COVID just to name two), how can we practice empathy to better understand each other? Note: I didn’t say agree. Some things I have found useful to exercise that empathy muscle:
..there is a BIG difference. What is the person saying with words, what are they saying with emotion and what are they saying with body language? What are the words they are not saying? Sometimes that is just as important!
Even if just for a moment, you put down your personal, cultural and experiential lenses and put on the other person’s. What in their life is making them reach a certain conclusion or opinion? A lot of the time, if you only knew one more thing about a person, you could better understand where they are coming from.
This quickly turns into a debate that 9/10 times turns nasty (because we don’t know how to have healthy debates anymore). Going in to “win the war of words” automatically makes you not listen or take their perspective, but rather just get your own across. Go into a conversation to listen and be open to be educated and be wrong (ouch!). You can still make your point of view heard, without getting personal or trying to force your opinion on others.
These are tricky times and unfortunately friends and families have been broken apart because of a lack of empathy. As ordinary people, we see a world thriving with love and empathy for others—those we agree and disagree with! And for that world to come to pass, it starts with you and I.
Never pass up an opportunity to be empathetic!