Everyone knows empathy is important, but recognizing it in real life can be a challenge. These genuine examples of showing empathy will help you identify situations where you can show empathy in professional and personal settings. A deeper understanding of empathy and empathetic statements can lead to better relationships and even a chance to be a more successful leader.
Often confused with sympathy, empathy actually requires perspective-taking. When you are being empathetic, you are doing more than feeling sorry for another person; you are actually trying to imagine the situation from that person's point of view.
There are three different types of empathy, and it's possible to have more than one type at a time:
- Emotional empathy - When you feel something because someone else does, this is emotional empathy. You may have noticed this when you cried watching a very sad scene in a movie.
- Cognitive empathy - Involving thinking more than feeling, cognitive empathy means putting yourself in someone else's shoes. When you talk to a friend about something that is bothering you and feel understood by that person, it's often because your friend was using cognitive empathy.
- Compassionate empathy - This is any kind of empathy that leads to action. When you see someone in need and offer that person some food or money, that is compassionate empathy.
Being empathetic can take different forms, depending on the situation. From personal life to professional or school interactions, these are some ways people show empathy.
Imagine you are a student and a friend in your class has just failed a major test or exam. Your friend is distraught because she studied really hard and still failed. Even though you got a good grade on this test, you remember what it is like to fail. You don't try to fix things for your friend. Instead, you make an empathetic statement like, "I'm so, so sorry about your grade. I know how hard you studied and how disappointed you must feel."
In the restroom at school, one student gets teased and pushed into a stall by other kids. Imagine you're a kid watching this interaction. How do you demonstrate empathy? First, you remember what it is like to be picked on. You may wait until the bullies have left and help the kid out of the stall. You could also show compassionate empathy and take action by reporting the bullying to an adult.
Your co-worker has a mountain of work to do and will need to come in over the weekend to finish. You don't do the same kind of work, and there's no way for you to offer practical help. Still, you know what it's like to lose a weekend to work, and you feel really bad for your colleague. On Saturday, you show empathy by stopping by the office with some coffee and donuts for him, along with a few encouraging words.
You run a small hardware store. One morning, a man comes in and is irate with your employee because the screws she recommended do not fit his project. You help him get what he needs and be on his way. When you look at your employee, your heart sinks. She is trying not to cry. Your empathetic response is, "I'm so sorry that happened. Being yelled at is awful. Take some time if you need it."
Imagine you are a therapist or counselor. You are working with a widower who can't seem to get past his grief over the loss of his wife. You listen carefully as he explains the way the grief keeps coming back, even though it's been several months. You know what it's like to feel loss. Your empathetic response could be comforting words like, "It's really hard to feel grief like this. It follows no rules, and it can be unpredictable. Some days are just really difficult."
You work at a clinic and an older woman comes in complaining of knee pain. She has arthritis in both knees. There are many practical solutions you can offer to help, but you also choose to show empathy. You can do this by reflecting her situation in your tone and words, such as, "I know it must be really difficult to go about your normal life with this pain. Let's see what we can do to help."
A friend going through a difficult break-up is an opportunity to show empathy in your social life. Imagine you didn't like her boyfriend, and you haven't approved of this relationship. She comes to you distraught that it is over. Part of being empathetic is reserving judgement, so you set aside what you think should happen and focus on her feelings instead. You give her a hug and listen attentively while she talks.
You get home from work to discover your spouse has the flu. The kids have appointments and extracurricular activities the next several evenings, and you're traveling for business at the end of the week. However, you set aside your personal concerns about the responsibilities and instead make him a cup of tea. You could add some words of encouragement, but the real empathy shows in your actions.
People can show empathy to other species too. Imagine your beloved dog is dying. You try to keep her happy and comfortable for as long as possible, but a day comes when she is in too much pain to enjoy her life. You take her to the vet and have her put to sleep. This is a choice made out of empathy.
Showing empathy is an important way to build strong relationships and be a good friend. Ultimately, people feel less alone when they know you understand their perspective, and that's what empathy is all about.