I often find that the big blind spot in someone’s development is their lack of empathy. It can show up in various ways, like the lack of sensitivity to what is happening for another, the inability to make authentic emotional responses when someone is speaking of a personal concern, the inability to pick up on another’s perspective or even simply to assume that other people think and feel as they do.
I was very struck by it very recently in observing someone listening to another as she shared what had being going on for her. The woman went through the motions of listening, but the feedback later was that the speaker didn’t feel the person was emotionally “plugged in” to what she was speaking about. It was as though she wasn’t really “getting it” and thus the speaker had not really felt supported or really understood. It’s that experience that “the lights are on but nobody’s at home”. She made all the seemingly right noises, but it lacked a sense of connection or authenticity, what some might call “resonance”.
What is empathy?
Empathy is described as being the ability to sense how another is feeling, to pick up on and respond to someone’s unspoken concerns or feelings, or to understand the issues or concerns behind another’s feelings. It can be a feeling response and a thinking response.
It requires self awareness. It means being able to sense and understand one’s own emotional responses, a “feeling within”. Hence one can resonate with another, because one can sense it inside. Self awareness can mean also that one can discriminate between what is “mine” and what is “another’s”. Hence you don’t confuse your own stuff with another’s. You might get a reminder, but you can make the distinction. This might seem an “advanced” skill, but then when another is sharing of themselves, it won’t serve them if you get into your own stuff. Rather, that is to put it on one side, in Gestalt the rule of “époché“, like putting it in your pocket!
To get where another is coming from is to open up whole lines of communication and action that may otherwise be missed. As above, you can offer better support and be better able to offer help that is tailored more appropriately to their needs. Your communication may be more in line with where they are coming from and with their needs. People may have more trust in you. It is then easier to bring people with you, as with a leader, since what you are saying may more accurately resonate with them, or takes better account of their needs. In business it makes you a better “people manager”. In relationships it is more easy to resolve disagreements or to head them off since you say and do takes account of the other’s perspective and potentially involves or includes them.
While people may go through the motions of appearing to take account of another’s perspective, if empathy is lacking it will very likely lack authenticity and therefore credibility. To neglect empthy is to miss out on a whole world of being with others that brings people closer together and more as One.