Recognising Emotions in Others – Empathy
Can you step into another’s shoes?
You’re at a roundabout and a car in the lane beside you swerves into your lane. You blow your horn and shout some obscenities. Later you see the driver parked next to you at a petrol pump. Their tear-stained eyes fixed on the fuel meter. Your anger is gone and replaced by deep compassion for this person.
With everyone you meet, you have a choice of how you see them. Are they a villain? Or are they a person who has a life as complicated as you? Do they also desire to be loved and felt seen? Can you see them as this whole, mangled mess of what makes us human or condemn them based on behaviour at a given moment?
If you can recall a person who irritates you. Can you remember a situation where and why you began to feel this way? The way you perceive this person is linked to how you feel about this person. I can recall a former colleague and I know that she wasn’t the person I believed she was due to how she was in her role at work. It’s very possible someone I’ve worked with feels the same about me!
How would you have described the hypothetical driver if you hadn’t seen their tears?
Holding this bigger picture, that a person is a whole person, even in the midst of anger and frustration, is empathy.
You’re there with them, you’ve worn those shoes before and you feel that weight.
Ways to Develop your Empathy
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
Listen to people, meet new people. Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen”. Curious people learn and understand the other person’s point of view. This is a true human-to-human connection. If you can’t meet new people right now, follow someone on social media with a different background from you.
Examine your Unconscious Bias
Learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional and deeply engrained within our beliefs. They can affect our behaviour. An example, if you had a flat tyre, would you approach a man or woman first to help you? This is a mild example. A great place to learn more is the book Blindspot.
Research shows that reading literary fiction sharpens our ability to understand others’ emotions. And read about the lives and struggles of different groups of people.
The Way Forward
We have a desire to connect with people. Building our empathy helps us be open, curious and non-judgemental. It lets us understand that all experiences have value and helps build community.
“Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive” – The Dalai Lama
This is Part 4 of our Emotional Intelligence Series.
Read parts 1-3 here