Updated: Dec 30, 2021
by Lihong McPhail
What is empathy? Why is empathy so important? According to Brene Brown, empathy is feeling with people, and empathy is what fuels deep connection. According to Simon Sinek, empathy is what makes a great leader. Brene Brown proposes four qualities of empathy. The first quality is the ability of taking the perspective of another person and recognizing their perspective as their truth. The second quality is staying out of judgment. The third quality is recognizing emotions in other people and communicating that. The last quality is feeling with people. We can only create a genuine connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own vulnerabilities. Next I will share three examples of communicating empathy in various situations from the leading experts on the subject.
How should you communicate with empathy when someone shares a very difficult situation with us. For example, when your friend says, “Hey! I am stuck. I am overwhelmed.” How should you respond with empathy? Brene Brown suggests, “I know what it is like down here. You are not alone.” According to her, in order to respond with empathy, we need to connect with something in ourselves that knows that feeling. What if you don’t know how to respond, when someone shares a very difficult situation with us? Brene Brown suggests, “I don’t know what to say right now. I am just so glad that you told me.” According to her, rarely a response can make something better, what makes something better is connection.
How should you communicate with empathy in difficult situations? One of the Ted talks that I like is called “Empathy: the heart of difficult conversations” by Michelle Stowe. She suggests, when someone does something that upsets you, instead of getting into an attack model, calm down, pause and ask a question. Don’t ask: “why did you do that?” Instead ask: “what happened that you did that?”
How should you communicate with empathy as a leader when someone is not performing well? Empathy is being concerned with the human being, not just their output. If your kids or your team members are not performing well, how should you respond? Simon Sinek suggests, “Your performance numbers have been down for a third time in a row. Are you okay? I am worried about you.”
Now we understand the importance of empathy and examples of communicating empathy in various situations. Giving empathy not only develops connection but also softens us. However, it is not only important to know how to give empathy, but it is even more important to know how to receive empathy. To receive empathy, we need to lower our walls, and recognize that it is okay to be imperfect.