North Seattle Community College Beginnings 2010

North Seattle Community College
Beginnings 2010
Empathy: "Empathy is the imaginary participation in another person’s experience,
including emotional and intellectual dimensions, by imagining his or her perspective
(not by assuming the person’s position)" (Bennett, J).
The Cultivation of Empathy: A Skill in Multicultural Communication and Competency
Purposes of empathy are:
 To show that you care about the other person.
 To foster meaningful, helpful, close relationships.
 To learn more about other people.
 To direct communication towards important emotional topics.
 To let the other person know he/she is accepted as he/she is, therefore encouraging him/her to open up.
 To reduce your irritation with others because you understand them better. If you understand them, you
forgive them.
 To reduce prejudice and eradicate negative assumptions, with the emphasis on the word "assumptions."
The practice of empathy is difficult. Each person learns empathy to a degree as a matter of growing up
and living in the world, but how do we really practice empathy?
How to practice empathy as a communication skill1:
I. Listen, listen, listen. The idea is first you really listen; then, you react. Listening is hard work and
everyone can get distracted. Even when we get distracted, we need to pull ourselves together and get back
on track to the best of our abilities.
 One has to stop comparing himself to the other person. For example thinking, "I had it rougher than
him." "He is smarter than me."
 One must stop remembering his own experiences on the same subject while the other person is talking.
 One must not consider the verbal give and take as intellectual debate with the goal of putting the other
person down.
 One must not think he knows everything, so he doesn't need to listen to the other person.
 One must not laugh off what the other one is saying or try to change the topic before it gets too serious.
 One must stop placating the other person by saying, "You're right." "I agree." "He did that to you!
Really! What a jerk!" etc.
 One has to stop trying to read the other person's mind.
 One has to stop thinking about his next step or his answer before the other person finishes talking. For
example, "How shall I react to this one when I have to answer him? If I smile or nod, he may take it that I
approve of what he has done."
 One has to stop filtering what the other person says by concentrating to hear only specific matters or
significant remarks.
 One has to not judge that a statement by the other person is crazy, extreme, juvenile, boring, or
2. Let the other person feel that he is heard. Nobody is perfect at this, but we can get better in time if
we work on it.
 One way to do this is to reflect the other person's feeling (active listening). "It sounds like…this really
hurt you." "You feel left out." "You feel unimportant." The focus on the other person's feelings
encourages him to talk those feelings out and explore those feelings practically on his own.
 Asking too many questions, giving judgmental responses or premature advice or reassurance before the
other person finishes his words is counterproductive. It takes away from the other person's ability to solve
his problem on his own by talking it out. Telling him your own story or experience is not so bad if you
don't forget the other persons concern, pain or problem.
 One of the most common reasons for misunderstandings is our emotional reaction to what the other
person says. If the person says something that sets off an emotion (like anger, insecurity, hurt, insult to
our beliefs, etc.) that is not related to the person speaking but is related to the listener, the listener may get
distracted and therefore may miscalculate the other person's problem. These are called “red flag” words
and you can watch for them and choose to not react.
 A correct response embraces the gist of the other person's feelings. This may sound like the listener is
parroting the talker, but it is an effective way of letting the person know you're interested and listening,
for example, "You feel hurt," "You are overwhelmed." If we show no reaction or make no comment while
the other person talks, he may take it as disinterest or disapproval or he may think we do not understand
 As the other person is talking, it is possible for an empathizer to guess beforehand what the other
person is feeling and provide an additional insight. At that point, at an opportune moment in the
conversation, an interpretation more or less in a question form may add to the talker's understanding of
himself. For example, "Could it be that your mother is acting this way, because she can't stand losing
Practicing Empathy: Writing Reflectively
Recall the incident in which you first became aware of differences. What was your reaction? Were you
the focus of attention or were others? How did that affect how you reacted to the situation?
What are the “messages” that you learned about various “minorities” or “majorities” when you were a
child? At home? In school? Have your views changed considerably since then? Why or why not?
Recall an experience in which your own difference put you in an uncomfortable position vis-à-vis the
people directly around you. What was that difference? How did it affect you?
How do your memories of differences affect you today? How do they (or might they) affect your
participation in this class or in the workplace?
Find a partner to share what you wrote. One of you act as the speaker and the other the listener.
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