The 5 Empathy Skills
From Brene Brown’s new book Dare to Lead pg 143-149
- To see the world as others see it, or perspective taking
- To be nonjudgemental
- To understand another person’s feelings
- To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings
- Mindfulness (paying attention)
Today I was reading Brene Brown’s 5 empathy skills from her research and previous researchers and scholars. It’s funny how empathy is an ongoing thing. This skill set like any other is learned over time. Last night, being proud of myself because I made a conscious effort to really dive in and try to be in the moment with my wife. Patting myself on the back with all the “Brene Brown” empathy checklists, I wake up the next morning completely and utterly failing. The important thing is that I am aware of my shortcomings and willing to work daily to be better. A little self forgiveness doesn’t hurt either.
The first empathy skill, to see the world as others see it, or perspective taking, is one reason why I love doing what I do. I take care of elderly folks and boy do they have stories! I’ve always loved getting to know people’s different backgrounds and life experience that had brought them to where they are now. I think that’s why I’m so attracted to cities where people move in and out of like Nashville or Dallas (previous places where I used to live). There was one quote in particular that really stirred my soul, when Brene said “Those of us who were taught perspective taking skills as children owe our parents a huge debt of gratitude.” I took a picture of that page and sent a text to my Dad, saying “Thank you.”
I liked how in the second empathy skill, to be nonjudgmental, Brene talked about how judgement works, what our judgement says about us, and what effects it has on others. Brene says that judgement is a vicious cycle. “It’s important to examine where we feel judgement because it can quickly become a vicious shame cycle. The judgement of others leaves us feeling shame, so we offload the hurt by judging others.”
I felt this cycle full force while living in Nashville as a singer-songwriter. I quickly learned the skill of judging there, as no one wants to be (even though everyone is) the judged. In Nashville being surrounded by great talent was the absolute quickest way to learn, by emerging myself in it. It also was as slippery slope of judgement that I wish I could have told my younger self not to get caught down.
Brene Brown talks about emotional literacy in the third skill, “to understand another person’s feelings.” coupled with the fourth skill, “To communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings”. Below are a couple of the biggest takeaways via tweet from three and four.
I especially connected with “Many emotions that we experience show up as pissed off or shut down on the surface. Below the surface, there’s much more nuance and depth.” One way that I’ve recently heard this put to me, is “when you feel anger or withdrawal, ask yourself, ‘What am I really feeling?'” I think the easiest way for me to do this is to start with why, and to keep asking why until you find the root answer. It may be five whys or it may take three, the point is that you keep asking until you get to the heart of the real discomfort and can verbalize your real emotions that are underneath.
The fifth empathy skill is mindfulness or paying attention. The definition she uses from Kristin Neff is “Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated… We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time… Mindfulness requires that we not be ‘over-identified’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”
If you’re like me, trying to think of 5 empathy skills while “in the moment” with someone may be a little overwhelming. It can be very useful for self evaluation after the fact. So I’m going to share with you a quote from Brene’s book Dare to Lead on pg 140 that I think will help guide us in that quest to get empathy right. “Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience.”
Connecting to the emotion instead of the experience, helps you to see the world as others see it because you have felt that emotion (anger, hurt, betrayal, loss, etc). Relating to the emotion helps take the judgement out of the equation. The importance in this connection would be to make sure you understand, not just think you understand by communicating what you see is the emotion they are feeling so they have the chance to validate it or not. Actually connecting to their emotion that underpins an experience causes you to pay attention to their story as well. Remember to connect to the emotion not the experience. I hope this article helps you in your journey on empathy. Check out Brene’s book Dare to lead and leave a comment below! I’ll be posting a new book every week on Wednesday and would love for you to read along with me and get your input!
Vigilant Poster Girl
Read along with us Dare to Lead