Human Connection: Let’s talk about Empathy

Empathy is defined as understanding another’s emotions but it has expanded to include, according to Daniel Goleman, three kinds. First, cognitive empathy or how people think and perceive the world. Secondly, emotional empathy which is simply to resonate with the other. Finally, empathic concern is to show you have someone’s back. With the wide range of application and research that is being done, I wanted to share a few more insights regarding empathy that have popped up for me lately. 

I came across this video a while back and emailed it to myself to really think about it more later. (Anyone else do that?). Well today I was able to review it again.

It’s all about empathy and the science of human connection. She mentions being an emotion detective for her client. This resonated with me because right now my young children are into solving mysteries and looking for clues. This detective mentality doesn’t have to be just for psychologists or young children, it can be for all of us. As a fan of Brene Brown, I try to stay curious about my emotions and boy have I been learning a LOT lately.

  • I’ve added a module on emotional intelligence to my career planning course I teach because I know it’s that important. In fact, there were 32.6 million results on Google when I typed “emotional intelligence in the workplace.”
  • I am currently doing EMDR therapy to work through some issues that have come up since becoming a mom. Wow, that modality is effective and enlightening. I will devote a whole blog post to this at some point.
  • I’ve been overcoming my own biases regarding seeking help. Funny enough, even as a trained counselor I had hang ups about seeking help myself. It’s much easier for me to help others.
  • I’ve been learning about the connection of the mind and body and learning where I store my stress. I’m also realizing how my unconscious emotions might be signaling me in the aches and pains that have distracted me from dealing with them. Our brains are incredible.

But back to Helen, she created an acronym for empathy to help us further our knowledge of how it plays out with someone else. I’ve included it here with some of my own observations. The biggest takeaway I have though is how this is fundamental to our species AND it can be trained. We can all build skills in empathy. This often shows up as emotional intelligence (see below for further resources).

Her acronym to help you be more empathetic:

E – Eye contact

Eye contact which initiates the connection and can show the other person they are seen. What a gift we can do for another when we stop our frenetic way of life and see someone for where they are.

M – Muscles of facial expression.

I think this has been seriously impacted in our era of wearing masks in public as I must rely on eye contact to get an impression of someone. I have adapted by not looking at people – which is sad. I want to change this when we aren’t mandated to wear masks anymore.

P – Posture.

This is not about good spinal health. It’s more about open or closed posture. Are you leaning slightly forward or are you leaned back with your legs crossed? There are strong messages we can send in the way we sit with others. We can do this in Zoom life too – remember to look at the camera to really “see” the other person. Today I said to a student – “you’re nodding which could just mean you are listening so let me know what you think of what I just said”. We can state our observations and curiosities. It gives them a chance to correct you or affirm you – either way, it shows you are paying attention.

A – Affect.

Brené Brown says most people can only identify 3 emotions – happy, sad, angry. We can and should do better than three. Here is a wheel of words to add to our understanding.

T – Tone of voice.

My therapist is so good at encouraging me to let it out when she can hear me holding back tears in my voice. When I was in graduate school, we learned the phrase “low and slow” to talk to our clients in a supportive way. The tone of your voice says a lot about your words.

H – Hearing the whole person.

 70% of what we say is nonverbal. To be empathetic is to notice – be an emotion detective like my three-year-old. Look for clues to what they are saying.

Y- Your response.

You often mirror others emotional responses, for example smiling when others smile. Daniel Goleman mentioned we have a social circuitry of the brain and we have mirror neurons which help us connect in our interactions. His video linked here is also a great resource to kick start your understanding of this topic.

Which letter adds to your understanding of empathy?

“We are hardwired for empathy, our survival depends on it” –

Helen Riess, Co-Founder, Chief Scientist and Chairman of Empathetics, LLC

How can you do something today to help someone else feel seen?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: