Empathy, Compassion & Active Listening

Listen, instead of hearing with the right intention (6 min read) – Issue #81

Deep Health is a whole-person, whole-life approach to health, including six primary dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, existential, relational-social, and environmental.

For having good relational – social health, an important aspect to learn is Empathy and Compassion.

Pause and reflect: What do these words ‘Empathy and Compassion’ mean to you?

Image credits: Lucia Macedo/Unsplash

The quality of your relationships, much more than your knowledge or skill, predict your success in almost every sphere of your life.

Empathy originated from the German word ‘Einfühlung’ meaning ‘feeling into’. It is a sense of ‘I get what you’re going through’. It is the ability to grasp and understand what other people are feeling and thinking. What motivates them. What they’re experiencing.

Empathy means that you can understand and relate to what someone else is going through, even if you don’t necessarily approve of it or like it. You can ‘sense into’ their experience and imagine how you would feel in their place. You may even be able to feel the same emotions that they are feeling. It means you can assure the other person that you’re on their team. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When you are empathetic, you are able to recognise and acknowledge another person’s emotions and respond to them in a caring and supportive way. This can help to build strong relationships and create a sense of connection and understanding between people. Empathy is an important social skill that allows us to interact with others in a compassionate and meaningful way.

An example of empathy would be if your friend is going through a difficult time, such as a breakup, and you take the time to listen to their feelings and try to understand what they are going through. You may acknowledge their pain and offer comfort or support by saying something like, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. It must be really tough right now. If you need someone to talk to or to take your mind off things, I’m here for you”.

Compassion originated from the Latin language, meaning ‘to suffer together’. It’s a sense of being with someone at a time of need. It’s a non-judgemental attitude of comfort, open-hearted kindness, and emotional awareness of someone else’s experiences. Compassion is not hand-wringing or sympathy like ‘‘Oh, Poor you’’.

In fact, you can pretty much sum up empathy and compassion like this, “I am sorry to hear that. But don’t worry, I’m here to support you.”

Pause and reflect Think of your conversations with clients, colleagues and/or loved ones. How do you demonstrate empathy and compassion with them? What words and gestures do you use?

The fundamental attitude of empathy and compassion is this:

  • I ‘see’ you. I ‘get’ you.

  • I respect where you’re coming from. I’m willing to see things from your perspective.

  • You are not alone.

  • We are here together.

There are several tools to teach Empathy and Compassion but one of the most important ones is Active Listening.

Elements of active listening

  1. Listening is more than just ‘hearing’.

    Listening means you’re actively engaged.

  2. Listen with your whole body.

    Look people in the eye when they talk (but don’t stare creepily – occasionally look away). Eye contact means respect. Turn your whole body to face the person. Put down your cell phone. Take your earphones out of your ears. Really take in what they are saying.

  3. While they are speaking, receive the information they’re giving you.

    Try to really understand what they are talking about. Don’t sit there watching their lips move while thinking about what you are going to say next.

  4. Observe other cues. What’s their facial expression like? Their body language? Tone of voice?

  5. Don’t jump to solve the problem they are facing. Nod. And nothing more until they are done.

  6. Paraphrase. Repeat back what you have heard to ensure that you have understood the message correctly.

    “I just want to make sure I heard this correctly. So you’re saying…?”

To be good at active listening, you need to understand different elements of communication. Non-Verbal Communication (NVC) is one of them.

License free images from Internet

Consider what’s going on in the first picture (see above). How about the second one (see above)? Both subjects have open mouths and squinty eyes. But the similarities end there. In the first photo, the girl’s expression and eyes suggest they are happy about something. In the second photo, the person’s facial expression, eye gaze, and gesture clearly indicate that they’re cranky about something. A picture is really worth a thousand words. Let’s look closer at nonverbal communication – the ways in which humans communicate outside of the words that they say.

We don’t know for sure how much of human communication is non-verbal (estimate 50-93%). But researchers agree on two things:

  • You need non-verbal communication to correctly understand situations and make meaning out of them.

  • Learning to read and interpret things like facial expression, body language, and other unspoken cues vastly improves your ability to connect with and understand the other person.

The emergence of language in human evolution was a relatively late development, which means that our ancestors relied heavily on the nuances of body posture and movement, to convey meaning. This holds true even today, as we tend to instinctively assess nonverbal cues before processing the spoken words we hear. When you step back, it’s pretty impressive how much of communication relies on our nonverbal elements.

Non-Verbal communication (NVC) can also occur in writing. For example:

Do you write emails with complete, grammatically correct sentences? Or are you more of an omg… lol r u 4 realz? kind of person? Or Do you include more formal salutations, such as “Dear So and so”?

NVC is a huge part of human interaction. Ask yourself two key questions:

  • What do people learn, see, or know about me via nonverbal cues?

  • Is that what I want them to learn, see, or know?

If you think your nonverbal cues might not match your intended presentation, priorities, or values, then consider how you might revise those cues to send the message you do want.

Relations play an important role in maintaining good health and well-being. Positive relationships with family, friends, and loved ones can provide emotional support, a sense of belonging, and help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Research has shown that people who have strong social connections tend to have better physical and mental health outcomes than those who are socially isolated.

Communication is one of the most important factors in maintaining healthy relationships. Good communication helps to build trust, understanding, and connection with others, which is essential for healthy and happy relationships.

Effective communication involves expressing yourself clearly and listening actively to others.

Pause and Reflect

  • What’s one way you could show empathy this week? What’s one way you could show compassion this week?

  • After observing other people’s nonverbal communication patterns, what three nonverbal elements are most salient to you? (In other words, what did you find yourself noticing most often about other people?)

  • After observing your OWN nonverbal communication patterns, what three nonverbal elements did you notice about yourself?

  • Do your non-verbal characteristics match the image that you want to project of yourself?

The next issue of Good Vibes focuses on the Power of Making Connections, their benefits and the strategies to foster them in our lives. Subscribe right away before you forget and miss out the next issue. It’s free!

May 21, 2023

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