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Empathizing

Empathizing is a Connecting Skill. “Hearts are the prize when we empathize.”

 
 

What is the other person feeling?

Empathy is being sensitive to the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of others. It is acknowledging and letting in what someone else is feeling and experiencing. Empathy involves recognizing the emotions of others, taking on their perspective and using that information to guide us


Why Empathizing — The Science

  • Empathy can be healing. Patients who felt empathy from their doctor recovered from their cold faster.
  • The personal distress experienced by observing others’ pain often motivates us to respond with compassion. Providing mutual help reduces our own distress.
  • When we see another person’s situation from his or her point of view, and we value their welfare, it can override our bias.
  • Physicians foster empathy by recognizing their own emotions, attending to negative emotions over time, attuning to patients’ verbal and nonverbal emotional messages, and becoming receptive to negative feedback.
  • Importantly, physicians who learn to empathize with patients during emotionally charged interactions can reduce anger and frustration and also increase their therapeutic impact.

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  1. Rakel D, Barrett B, Zhang Z, Hoeft T, Chewning B, Marchand L, Scheder J. Perception of empathy in the therapeutic encounter: effects on the common cold. Patient education and counseling. 201;85(3):390-397.
  2. Riess H. The science of empathy. Journal of patient experience. 2017;4(2):74-77.
  3. Ibid
  4. Halpern J. Empathy and patient–physician conflicts. Journal of general internal medicine. 2007;22(5):696-700.
  5. Ibid.

How to Practice-Model-Coach
Empathizing

Practice:

  • When a member of your family is struggling, tell yourself a story about why they might be feeling this way. Can you see how the situation is difficult for them, understand their perspective?
  • When paying attention to others with an open heart, you can discover a great deal about what is true for that person.  Think about someone in your life and put yourself in their shoes and ask, “what might be true for ______?” What might their life be like, their emotions, thoughts and feelings? 
  • Find your “blind spots”: Seek to know what you don’t know about other people’s experiences.  Search for commonalities with people who are different from you (different religion, political party, income level, race, etc). When you empathize with differences, you can find pathways to solutions together. 
  • Watch, listen to, and read great stories:  When you watch TV shows, listen to or read stories, you are being shown how it feels to be in lives other than our own. Can you feel what it is like to be the people in the stories? 
  • Practice having empathy for yourself:  When something is difficult, give yourself empathy by acknowledging what is difficult and that you are in a situation you wish you were not. When we have empathy for ourselves, we can better have empathy for others. 

Model:

  • When situations come up where you find yourself empathizing with other people’s situations, share that with your family . 
  • Acknowledge the other person’s emotions. Even if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion, acknowledging and mirroring the other person’s feelings can help you empathize better. 
  • Be curious: When talking with others, see if you can ask questions that allow you to discover how they are feeling about their lives, even in the small moments.  Try to keep your questions as a “friendly inquiry” rather than a cross-examination. Try to have a conversation with at least one stranger per week–at the store, the post office, or in line. 

Coach:

  • When situations come up for others where they are not connecting with others in their life, help them create other stories to see the other perspective.
  • When someone is in conflict, you can help them find empathy. First, acknowledge what is going on for them and demonstrate empathy for them. Then, you can have empathy with the other person in the conflict and share your ideas on how the other person may have felt or ask them to explore how the other person may have felt.

Resources for Empathizing

 
 
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