4. Social Awareness

4.1 Empathy

The first attribute of Social Awareness is empathy. You are empathetic if you:

  • Are attentive to emotional cues
  • Listen well
  • Understand others’ perspectives
  • Show sensitivity
  • Help others based on an understanding of their needs and feelings.

10/10 Before we start, give yourself a quick score out of 10 as to how empathetic you think you are. (You can compare this score to your empathy rating after completing this module.)

What Exactly is Empathy?

Unlike sympathy, which is feeling sad or pity for someone, empathy fosters selfless consideration and action. Using the empathetic attributes listed above, empathy promotes “behaviour which is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship” that comes from within.

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have divided empathy into three types.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking. Cognitive empathy makes us better communicators because it helps us relay information in a way that best reaches the other person.

Emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person. Some have described it as 'your pain in my heart'. This type of empathy helps you build emotional connections with others.

Compassionate empathy (also known as empathic concern) goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings: it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can.”    Inc.com

Increasing Your Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy works on making educated guesses. But because physical movements and facial expressions can be misinterpreted (a smile, for example, can mean joy or it can also indicate sadness) it means that you need to consider what you know about another person, and have a willingness to learn more.

It is human that your thinking may be influenced by past experiences and an unconscious bias. Be careful not to assume or rush to judgment.

Take a moment to reflect on any feedback you receive after interacting with others (written, verbal, body language). This will help you in two ways:

  1. It will help you better understand others and their personalities.
  2. You will discover how others perceive your thoughts and communication style.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Stephen R. Covey

Increasing Your Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy requires diving deeper to understand how the other person feels, and why they feel like that. It leads to a deeper connection, giving you a more complete picture of the situation, and finding a way to relate.

This can only be done through active listening. Resist the impulse to judge, to interrupt with your personal experience, or to suggest a solution.

One of our favourite books about empathy is the 1962 classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird” in which Atticus Finch says:

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Increasing Your Compassionate Empathy

By relating to what the other person is going through with emotional empathy, you will be better able to offer some comfort. While what worked for you may not work for this person, don't let that hold you back from doing what you can.

The best way to help is to ask the person directly what you can do to help.

Practising Empathy In Your Life

Remember that you don't have the whole picture. At any given time, everyone you encounter is dealing with issues of which you're unaware.

Bear in mind that how you view others and how you deal with them is influenced by your moods, struggles, and other factors.

Put empathy into practice by:

  • Listening to others, rather than trying to talk to them
  • Checking in on if you think there is something wrong
  • Learning about people from different backgrounds and cultures
  • Showing concern and care for others
  • Paying attention to the needs of others
  • Understanding others rather than of judging them.

Seeing the world through another’s eyes helps people to get along better and to feel better and is also a vital part of becoming the best person you can be.

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