Everyone is not like me! My lessons in practicing Empathy.
- October 7, 2021
- Posted by: adm-gnypnt
- Category: Empathy
By: Pallavi Aggarwal*
Empathy- What is empathy?! How is it different from sympathy? This was the first lesson in the first session of the Empathy workshop we attended at Ginny’s Planet.
Empathy is important in all aspects of our lives, be it personal or professional relationships. We are all constantly interacting with people – children, spouses, parents, friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers.
What is Empathy? Simply put it is the practice of trying to understand:
How People feel? What they think? What they might be going through? And react and respond accordingly.
Be concerned and show it accordingly.
My Take-Aways from the course on empathy
There are few key take-aways from the empathy course we did at Ginny’s Planet and here is a glimpse of these. It’s easy to say in theory but the workshops helped us practice these and embed them in our daily lives.
- Empathy is always based on our understanding of the other person. Actions based on our own feelings is not empathy.
In our interactions with others we very often, even if not consciously, assume what other people are feeling. In the same situation, everyone may feel differently. Simply put, if it rains, for someone it triggers happiness and joy, for someone else it may trigger gloom or a dull atmosphere. Both the feelings are OK and completely valid. Our different feelings can be a result of our past experiences, situations and current frame of mind. Some people, children may or may not articulate if they did not feel good about something, but the feeling is there and it is very much valid.
Respecting the other persons feelings and choices forms the base for empathy. Our understanding of a situation may also be based on our previous experiences with that particular person. Understanding new situations based on past experiences may not always be correct.
2. We need to embrace our feelings and vulnerabilities in order to practice empathy. It is alright to feel powerless at times and accept it as a part of you. We must not feel guilty about what we are feeling. This acceptance is always a back and forth process, never a constant.
3. Practicing Empathy requires a very fine balance. It takes time, it needs us to be 100% attentive/ conscious and adopt a beginners’ mindset. It needs you to be aware of your own triggers and recognize them when they do manifest and how to deal with them. Think, feel, act/ behave.
4. Beginners’ mindset is one of the key tools of Practicing Empathy. Always ask and don’t assume. Ask the simplest thing from people – what are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you want? Unless we ask, we will not know and assumption is the biggest hindrance in Practicing Empathy.
5. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree to the other person all the time. You have to understand the other person’s feelings.
6. Know the barriers to practicing empathy – Anxiety, worry, past experiences.
7. While practicing empathy, basic communication skills play a very important role. Body language, Tone, Words, paraphrasing things said to you, and reflections. The body language, tone and gestures convey to the person that we are actually listening to the other person from the point of view of understanding, and paraphrasing and reflection help to iterate what the other person has said to us.
8. Respect people’s choices even if it’s not something you would have done in that situation. When someone is speaking to you, listen without making any assumptions, not be judgemental. In situations where you know you can be judgemental, do not respond spontaneously. Do not jump to offer solutions. The first thought when someone is speaking about their problem or situation is to jump in and offer solutions. By listening carefully, paraphrasing to ensure that we have understood what the person is saying correctly, then reflecting to check with the person if the feeling you have identified with their situation is correct, can you begin to empathize.
Experiences of participants after the course on empathy
One of the participants in our empathy workshops says, one of her friends is going through a divorce. She has a 1-year-old child and their entire future is at stake. Normally in such discussions she would give her unsolicited opinions. However, post the empathy workshop she has constantly stopped herself from giving her opinion and lends a listening ear to the person in front of her. She realises that it is a painful situation for her friend who is already being judged by family members and needs someone to genuinely listen to her and support her feelings. She has learnt to do that through the Empathy workshop.
Another participant says, as a psychology post graduate student, she was aware of the term “Empathy”, but she did realise that “Practicing Empathy” was a different ball game altogether. She says her reaction to her husband in any situation would be that she knew better and would not take into account his suggestions seriously. He was stuck overseas and she was at home in another country with the children. Her husband would try to communicate with her she kept ignoring his views and his feelings. The “Practicing Empathy” workshop was an eye opener for her. She realised that it was always about her thoughts and rules without paying heed to his plight specially when it came to the children. She has since worked on this and reflected on her behaviour. She has tried to understand from his point of view the situation he is in without any family. She says her communication with her husband has greatly improved with no serious conflicts.
Empathy is one of the 4 pillars on which Ginny’s Planet stands. The others being: Diversity, Disability and Spirit of Inquiry. The course on Practicing Empathy is a part of the series of Core Workshops offered by Ginny’s Planet to children and adults either in groups or on a one-to-one basis.
To know more visit www.ginnysplanet.com
Ginny’s Planet is a social enterprise, working towards building a world where nobody feels like the odd one out, where imperfections are a part of life and where Being Different is Okay!
*Pallavi Aggarwal joined the course on Practicing Empathy as a Mom-Intern on Ginny’s Planet. She worked as the Head of Marketing on Ginny’s Planet till Oct 2021. Pallavi is passionate about the cause with which Ginny’s Planet works and actively and openly practices what she learns. She continues to be reflective in her everyday life.