In this continuing effort to identify and explain (briefly and practically) the skills/strategies of interpersonal communication, here is a brief discussion of empathy.
</span><span style='color: windowtext; font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12pt; display: none; mso-hide: all; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-no-proof: no;'> Empathy is feeling what another person feels from that person’s point of view without losing your own identity. Empathy enables you to understand emotionally what another person is experiencing. (To sympathize, in contrast, is to feel for the person—to feel sorry or happy for the person, for example.) Women, research shows, are perceived as more empathic and engage in more empathic communication than do men. So following these suggestions may come more easily to women.
</span><span class="BX3HD"><b style="mso-bidi-font-weight: normal;"><span style='font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12pt; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-no-proof: no;'>Communicating Empathy.</span></b></span><span class="BX3HD"><span style='font-family: "Times New Roman","serif"; font-size: 12pt; display: none; mso-hide: all; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-no-proof: no;'> Empathy is best expressed in two distinct parts: thinking empathy and feeling empathy. In thinking empathy you express an understanding of what the other person means. For example, when you paraphrase someone’s comment, showing that you understand the meaning the person is trying to communicate, you’re communicating thinking empathy. The second part is feeling empathy; here you express your feeling of what the other person is feeling. You demonstrate a similarity between what you’re feeling and what the other person is feeling. Often you’ll respond with both thinking and feeling empathy in the same brief response; for example, when a friend tells you of problems at home, you may respond by saying, for example, “Your problems at home do seem to be getting worse. I can imagine how you feel so angry at times.”
Here are a few more specific suggestions to help you communicate both your feeling and your thinking empathy more effectively:
< Be Clear. Make it clear that you’re trying to understand, not to evaluate, judge, or criticize.
< Focus. Maintain eye contact, an attentive posture, and physical closeness to focus your concentration. Express involvement through facial expressions and gestures.
< Reflect. In order to check the accuracy of your perceptions and to show your commitment to understanding the speaker, r eflect back to the speaker the feelings that you think are being expressed. Offer tentative statements about what you think the person is feeling; for example, “You seem really angry with your father” or “I hear some doubt in your voice.”
< Disclose. When appropriate, use your own self-disclosures to communicate your understanding; but be careful that you don’t refocus the discussion on yourself.
< Address mixed messages. At times you may want to identify and address any mixed messages that the person is sending as a way to foster more open and honest communication. For example, if your friend verbally expresses contentment but shows nonverbal signs of depression, it may be prudent to question the possible discrepancy.
< Acknowledge importance. Make it clear that you understand the depth of a person’s feelings.