Demonstrating understanding and connection
Balm Flower, the symbol for empathy
em⋅pa⋅thy [on-uh-stee] From Dictionary.com
1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
The way empathy is used in Nonviolent Communication is to just be present for another person. Emapthy is not
trying to fix the person or situation. We can let someone know we understand him or her by demonstrating empathy.
Marshall uses the phrase,
what's alive in you. Empathy is the complement to
honesty. Demonstrating empathy is acknowledging what the other person is observing, feeling, needing and requesting.
Because of how powerful empathy is at creating connection sometimes empathy is given priority over honesty. I find honesty is just as important as
empathy. Without the honesty the other party may not understand what is going on for us. When we are communicating in NVC we are either speaking honesty
or demonstrating empathy.
Sympathy is often confused with empathy. Sympathetic vibration is commonly illustrated with two tuning forks set to the same frequency. Striking one will induce sympathetic vibrations in the other. With people sympathy is feeling the same emotion as another person. So if I was sad and you started interacting with me and became sad also that is sympathy. With empathy you might feel a slight emotional drop, however it is not to the same emotional state as the speaker. Instead the empathizer stays centered and connected to self. If you get sucked in to the negative emotions of the speaker you benefit neither the speaker or yourself.
I have found the ability to demonstrate empathy to be quite challenging for most people to learn. In my culture (U.S.) most people want to help. Usually the way they help is by trying to fix things by offering advice. Even when this is done with the best intentions it is usually annoying to the person receiving the advice or being fixed. Only broken things can be fixed and I know I don't like to think I am broken and in need of repair. I recommend practicing demonstrating empathy in a safe place before trying it in stressful situation.
|What Empathy is:||What Empathy is not:|
Never put your BUT, in an angry person's face! May be followed by ass chewing.
Have you ever been in the position of the characters on the bottom half in the comic above? When I find myself in a similar situation, I often have trouble being in a place of empathy. How can I be compassionate under these circumstances? First and foremost is being aware of what's alive in me. This means being aware of my observations, feelings, needs and requests. What I find most helpful is using the emotions to identify the needs. Once I am connected to my needs then I will be emotionally available and able to look at the other person's needs.
Empathy vs Reassurance, Advice, One upping, Educating etc.
Notice in the responses below how when the emotion or need is obvious, the empathy is in the from of a statement. If the speaker is not clearly identifying a need or emotion, it is in the form of a question, like the TV show Jeopardy. If you tell someone that hasn't said what emotion they are feeling, this is the emotion you are feeling, you could be putting yourself in jeopardy. This is another tricky part of demonstrating empathy.
|An Expression of Pain or Distress||Response Demonstrating Empathy|
|You are always late. That's rude, when will you show up on time.||Show: Are you annoyed and wanting some consideration?|
|You make me so angry when you are disrespectful.||Show: You are angry and would like some respect.|
|Living with you is like living with a brick wall, I don't know what you are feeling.||Show: Are you mystified about what is going on for me and would like some connection?|
|You were lazy and left the dishes you promised to do in the sink.||Show: Are you frustrated and would like to see me keep my promises?|
|I'm tired of living with a slob.||Show: I hear you are tired. Are you wanting order?|