By Marcus Hoo

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. The term ’empathy’ is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Having a great deal of empathy makes you concerned for the well-being and happiness of others.

It is easy for most of us to empathize with people who are similar to us; we understand them because we have a lot in common. But empathy for people from different backgrounds and life experiences, is harder. Being able to imagine yourself with people that have contrasting backgrounds, having their thoughts and feelings, is empathy.

There are three types of empathy:
– Cognitive empathy: It is the ability to understand how someone else feels and to work out what they might be thinking.
– Emotional or affective empathy: Refers to the ability to share another person’s emotions.
– Compassionate empathy: It is when emotions are transformed into actions, when individuals are pushed to do something.

Young woman calms her friend who is sad

Why is Empathy Important?

Empathy is an important and vital skill. Being able to understand the needs of those around you and have a clear understanding of the perception you create with the way you are to others will enhance your communication skills. This will enable you to better understand the needs of your colleagues, clients, family and friends and build social connections.

Being empathetic also means being able to understand why people do what they do, and from that understanding, tolerance can grow. Tolerance and acceptance of the differences among us, while also recognizing our commonalties, are essential building blocks of healthy relationships, good mental health, and can even inspire social change.

Having empathy enables us to build social connections. To feel connected to others is hugely important for our optimal wellbeing. It is the very basis of human relationships and helps us to feel valued, loved, and cared for.

Two young women soothe and comfort their sad friends

How do I improve my empathy?

  • Listen attentively. Effective listening opens us up mentally and emotionally to the other person. It can help build trust, gain respect, strengthen relationships and gives space for inspiration.
  • Ask questions sensitively with the intent to understand how the other person is feeling.
  • Learn to be aware of your own biases, as these control our thoughts and opinions of others and in turn, will affect our actions.
  • Cultivate your sense of curiosity to develop a greater understanding of people.
  • practice being non-judgmental; work and socialise with people from all walks of life
  • Be in consensus with your own emotions as this will help you to relate to other people’s emotional reality more effectively.

For more information about empathy, or you want to home your ability to empathise with others, you can talk to our therapists about it here:

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