The word ‘empathy’ has become quite a buzzword in recent times. But as buzzwords go, there’s often more breadth than depth in their utterance – everyone talks about it, but few understand its implication from a standpoint of practical application.
This lesson is sub-divided into three parts and covers all about the practical application of empathy, with due focus on why it matters so much
Take the first part of the lesson and rediscover why empathy matters. Please also take the quiz at the end of the lesson too.
This lesson is in video format.
We recognise that some participants prefer reading to listening. If you are one of them, then you can access a transcript of the lesson by clicking on the View Transcript button below the video.
It had a been a bitter battle – with racial overtones.
And this was the America of the early 70s where race was a strong flashpoint.
The conflict in question involved the construction of a proposed highway that would cut straight through a public housing project.
The construction threatened to physically divide the close-knit community that inhabited that project and pitted public officials against that community.
After weeks of public protests and objection campaigns, both parties had agreed to mediation. And that’s when Jonathon Chace – Associate
Director of the U.S. Community Relations Service – stepped in.
At the end of the mediation process, the public officials prevailed. The highway was going to get built, and the aggrieved community would be able to do nothing about it.
Curiously though was that when the final session ended, the leader of the community organisation which had lost the case bolted across the floor, clasped Chace’s hand and thanked him for being “different from the others.”
“How was I different?” a surprised Chace asked.
“You listened,” was the reply. “You were the only one who cared about what we were saying.”
William Simkin, former director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and one of the first practitioners to write in depth about the mediation process, noted that “understanding has limited utility unless the mediator can somehow convey to the parties the fact that he/she understands the essence of the problem. At that point,” he stated, “and only then, can the mediator expect to be accorded confidence and respect. Understanding is not confined to bare facts. Quite frequently, the intense emotional background of an issue and the personalities involved may be more significant than the facts itself.’
Thus, conveying to the all parties involved that you understand the essence of what’s being communicated is vital and is what communication experts call Empathy. Conveying empathy comprises two elements
a. Empathetic Listening and
b. Empathetic First Responses.
Empathetic listening necessarily precedes empathetic first responses. We will cover how to listen empathetically and verbalise empathy in subsequent lessons. However, it would pay to understand off-the-bat…
As can be seen in the situation with Jonathan Chace, even when the conflict is not resolved, empathy in communication can have a profound impact on the parties. That is a powerful reckoning indeed and illustrates that empathy allows for respect between parties to be retained, the successful resolution of the conflict notwithstanding.
Among its myriad benefits, empathy:
• builds trust
• reduces tensions,
• facilitates the sharing of information, and
• creates an environment conducive to problem-solving.
Furthermore, cognitive studies have shown that people’s brain patterns synchronize when there is empathy in communication – a process scientists call ‘brain-to-brain coupling.
Brain-to-brain coupling helps rewire the brain from antagonistic thought patterns to collaborative or cooperative thought patterns.
Scientists are uncovering a host of benefits associated with empathetic listening. Couples report feeling more satisfied in their relationships, adolescents manage social interactions better, and patients feel less stress and respond better to treatment when healthcare practitioners employ empathetic communication.
Conversely, lack of empathy often leads to people becoming like bombs waiting to explode. Lack of an empathetic environment is invalidating and stressful. *Experiments reveal that not feeling heard can cause physical discomforts like chest tightness, nausea, or muscle tension and lead to social isolation, including cognitive decline.
Empathy matters. In subsequent lessons, we will look at the two components of empathy, namely empathetic listening and empathetic first responses. To proceed, please take the accompanying quiz.