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What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

“Empathy is trying on someone else’s shoes – Sympathy–wearing them.” Unknown

Empathy is an emotional skill and is necessary to both understand and practice if you are going to be one of the great ones.

The best way to understand empathy is to recognize it. The following are a few example of empathy in motion.

1. “Would it be possible to get a new pair, because it’s a manufacturing fault and I need to go jogging this evening?” asked the rather unhappy customer. “I’m sorry sir, but our companies’ policy is to send off the shoes to the supplier and they will let us know what we should do with regards replacement, in about 7 to 10 days” replied the Assistant Store Manager with an apologetic tone “You know, that really doesn’t suit me” the customer replied with a mixture of frustration and anger, ” If I give you back these faulty shoes, what am I supposed to jog in?” The Assistant Store Manager answered as politely as he could, “I’m sorry sir, but that’s our company policy, it says so at the back of your receipt. Sending off the shoes to the supplier is the best I can do I’m afraid!” “Well that just sucks” the customer said, unable to hide is irritation.

“I will be speaking to your managing Director!” he continued and stormed off in a huff Whilst there was probably not much the Assistant Store Manager could do to change the company policy, and lets also assume, for the purposes of the story that there was ABSOLUTELY no other alternative open to him. What could he have done to help diffuse the situation? He could have used empathy. The Assistant Store Manager could have acknowledged the customers feelings. Had he replied with a “I see we how frustrated you are. We have really let you down, haven’t we?” This reflecting back of the customer’s emotion, this empathy would have eased the customer’s disappointment and frustration, even if all else remained the same. Without empathy, all the Assistant Store Manager heard was the content of what the customer was saying. He never listened to his feelings of frustration and disappointment.

2. “I can tell you really want them. They really do look fabulous.” Rita fed back sincerely to the customer. “Yeh! They do look great and feel really good too; I’m just concerned about the price. Is there anything you can do for me to bring the price down a notch?” the customer replied. “I get that you’re frustrated, especially as they just fit so well” Rita put forward. “It’s hard enough trying to find something you like, and something that fit’s as well, and then to find that it’s out of your price range?” she continued, “Look I can’t promise you a discount, but what about if I go have a quick word with my manager and see what he says. If I can arrange something did you want to take them?” The customer smiled faintly and nodded appreciatively

3. “So that’s the story,” said my best friend as he finished his sad tale of woe, and trying to make light of his emotions. “But these things always happen for the best, don’t they?” “You sound quite sad about the whole thing?” I answered. “Actually you are right “he went on, “the truth is I am feeling sad, how could you tell?”

4. “It’s ridiculous to pay these prices when he would have out grown them by the end of the season” she complained. “I agree,” Eric replied, fastening the football boot on the youngsters left foot. “It does seem crazy to spend so much when as you say he will only get a season out of them. Would you rather I showed you something less expensive?” “What would the quality be like though?” asked the anxious mother. “I can appreciate your concern.” Eric answered “The quality is ok, my worry would be more around width” he continued “This young man has as you know a really wide foot and the less expensive boots will most likely be too narrow which could create blistering.” “Well I guess then we’ll just have to bite the bullet then won’t we,” the customer said patting her son’s shoulder

5. “Good morning John, how are you this morning?” I asked. “Yeh…ok…” John replied with a sigh. “You sound a bit out of sorts this morning, what’s up?” I questioned. “I’m ok” John answered, ” I just had a really rough night with the kids last night. They were all sick and Sammy is also down with the bug, so I was mom, dad, doctor, nurse and house maid till about 1 this morning” “Sounds rough, is there anything I can do to help?”

Did you find the empathy in the above scenarios? Read the quotes and explanations written below. Then re-read the above vignettes. You will then have a better understanding of empathy and it’s power as a communication and persuasion tool.

Empathy is:

“The ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and understand the other’s feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing.” Sam Vaknin

“Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response” Charles G. Morris

“Empathy is like giving someone a Psychological Hug” Lawrence J.

Bookbinder, PhD