What is Empathy?


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Author: Priyanshi Mukharaiya, Law student, (Doing BA.LLB) Gwalior, Interning under NICHE Advocacy Foundation. 

Empathy is the intellectual identification of the thought, feelings or state of another person.

It is the capacity to understand another person’s point of view or the result of such understanding. In simple words we can say, empathy is the ability to imagine how another person is feeling and so understand his/her mood.


Merriam – Webster dictionary explains the term empathy as- ” The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feeling, thoughts and experiences of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts and experiences fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner “. 

Empathy has four elements

  • To be able to see the world as others see it. 
  • Staying out of judgment– that means being nonjudgmental. 
  • Understand Feelings of the other person
  • Communicating that understanding to that person.

Role of empathy in our lives: empathy is very important in our day to day lives. We need it in at least five aspects of our life:  

Let us see each aspect one by one:

  1. Understanding others (diversity)
  2. Developing others 
  3. Service orientation 
  4. Leveraging diversity 
  5. Political awareness 

Understanding others (diversity)

No two people are alike. Other people will always have some differences. 

“Never criticise a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” this proverb gives an idea about what understanding others means. Understanding others is important in personal and professional relationships asit strengthens the bond. Though we may not have gone through a particular experience, we should understand the feeling if our friend, colleague or someone near to us is going through it.

Developing others 

Empathy is required for developing and nurturing people around us . Acting on their needs and concerns, and helping them to develop to their full potential can be done in a better way if we have empathy. This can be made through following constructive steps. 

  • Reward and praise people appropriately and provide constructive feedback 
  • Mentoring and coaching to help others to develop to their full potential. 
  • Provide assignments that will help their teams to develop. 

Service Industry :

Putting the needs of customers first and looking for ways to improve their satisfaction and loyalty can be done through empathy. In this way the services can improve and the brand can become more trustworthy. 

Leveraging diversity 

If we understand diversity, we can use it to achieve our goals. Especially in India, we are a diverse group of people. If we work together through mutual understanding we will make faster and better progress. Empathy influences the way you interact with others to fit with their needs and feelings. 

Political awareness 

Political awareness means ‘sensing and responding to a group’s emotional undercurrents and power relationship’. Political awareness can help individuals to navigate organisational relationships effectively. 

  • There is an important distinction between empathy, sympathy and compassion 

Both compassion and sympathy are about feelings for someone : seeing their distress and realising that they are suffering. Compassion has taken on an element of action that is lacking in sympathy. Empathy by contrast, is about experiencing those feelings for yourself as if you were that person, through the power of imagination. Compassion is an extension of empathy that drives you towards action. While sympathy drives disconnection, empathy and compassion generate connection.

Types of empathy : There are three types of empathy which are Cognitive empathy, Emotional empathy, Compassionate empathy.

  • Cognitive empathy –  cognitive empathy is understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions, in a very rational manner, rather than emotional sense
  • Emotional empathy – emotional empathy is also known as emotional contagion, and is catching someone else’s feelings, so that you literally feel them too.
  • Compassionate empathy – compassionate empathy is understanding someone’s feelings and taking appropriate action to help. 

Check list for empathy : let us see if you are an ampathetic person

  • are you good at really listening to what others have to say?
  • Do People often tell you about their problems?
  • are You good at picking up on how other people are feeling?
  • Do You often think about how other people feel?
  • Do Other people come to you for advice?
  • Do You try to help others who are suffering?
  • are You good at telling when people aren’t being honest?
  • Do You care deeply about other people?

if you want to improve your skills for empathy, we have good news for you. Empathy can be taught and learnt. Here are a few tips: 

  1. Work on listening to people without interrupting.
  2. Pay attention to body language and other types of non – verbal communication.
  3. Try to understand people even when you don’t agree with them.
  4. Ask people open questions to learn more about them and their lives.
  5. Imagine yourself in another person’s shoes.
  6. Tune in to emotional cues, 
  7. Show sensitivity and understand for others’ perspective. 
  8. pick up subtle cues almost subconsciously. But this will happen with proper practice 

At last i would like to say,

It may not always be easy, or even possible, to empathise with others but, through good people skills and some imagination, we can work towards more empathetic feelings. so that one can enjoy a better relationship with others and greater well – being through life. Remember: empathy is important for all relationships. Empathy drives compassion. Compassion drives the world. 

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