What is empathy
A new concept that crossed my mind came with inspiration from NVC (and with special inspiration from Robert Gonzales for step 5), and I offered a workshop called “Three Forms of Empathy”. Empathy is the ability to be with someone else and allow this person to share their feelings – painful or joyful – while listening openly. Empathy can take many different expressions: it can happen in silence, in words, in action… Yes, only the imagination sets the boundaries! With my workshop, I wanted to draw the participants’ attention to how they can use different forms of empathy to be present with and support another person.
The three forms of empathy
The three forms of empathy I asked participants to practice on where:
– Empathy with words
– Empathy with body language and facial expressions
– Empathy with presence.
Empathy with words: In NVC we often reflect what we hear someone else say by means of words. The usual way is to guess what feelings and needs are expressed by the one who is talking. In this way, the person who is being listened to often experiences understanding of his or her situation and state of being.
Empathy with body language and facial expressions: Another way of showing empathy is by using our body and our face. This often happens spontaneously and automatically without us being aware of it: we nod and we smile, we have an open and inviting body language. We can also do this in a conscious way to show that we are with the one we listen to.
Empathy with presence: Presence is of course involved in both previous forms of empathy. This special form of empathy is performed without words, body language or facial expression. We are present with the one we listen to with our full attention. It is a way for those who are listened to to completely “own” their process without impressions from the outside.
Exercise in couples
The exercise begins with the participants dividing into couples. Participant 1 is the one who shares and participant 2 is the one who listens. The exercise consists of six steps:
- Participant 1 chooses a subject that she or he is passionate about, but makes sure it is not so vulnerable to share it. The task for participant 2 is to show as much disinterest as possible.
- Participant 1 continues to share the same topic. This time, participant 2 will respond in one or more ways that are not empathy, for example, by:
– Giving advice
– Telling her/his own story
- Participant 1 chooses a new subject, which she or he wants to be heard in with empathy. Participant 2 listens emphatically by reflecting words, for example: “It seems like you feel sad and need community?”
- Participant 1 continues with the same (or a new) topic. Participant 2 shows with body language and facial expression that she or he listens with empathy without using words.
- Participant 1 continues with the same (or a new) topic. Participant 2 is present with participant 1 with her or his full awareness without using words, body language or facial expression.
- Participant 1 continues with the same (or a new) topic. Participant 2 deliberately chooses to listen with empathy based on one or more of the empathy forms above (step 3, 4 and/or 5).
Based on the time available during this particular workshop, the participants got two minutes each during steps 1 and 2. During steps 3-6 they had four minutes each. The timing can of course be modified, but I suggest that most time is spent on steps 3-6.
In the evaluation after the workshop, both me and the participants were very satisfied. Several of the participants had their favorite form of giving and receiving empathy. Most also felt a bit uncomfortable with one of the forms, both when they received and gave empathy. The most challenging one was step 5, giving empathy with presence. But there were also several of the participants who liked this step, both by giving and receiving. I enjoyed exploring how we can empathize in different ways and that we can also actively ask someone who listens to us to do it based on one of the above approaches. This is an exercise that I will continue to use and explore. If you use this exercise yourself, please share your experience with me.
I am communication consultant and a certified CNVC trainer. I work with groups and individuals who wants to be able to communicate better and building sustainable connections in their family, with their friends, at their workplace and in the bigger community. I am offering lectures, workshops, mediation and individual training both for individuals and for organizations. Anything from shorter presentations to several days or weeks of training. Since 2010 I have offered over 100 of lectures and workshops with inspiration of NVC (Nonviolent Communication). I have attended three one year programs organised by Friare Liv (Liv Larsson and Kay Rung): the Year 1, the Year 2 and the Mediation program. I have been assistant trainer on five of Friare Livs one year programs as well as on several of their shorter workshops.
(This is a blogpost translated from Joachim Berggren’s blog: http://www.jberggren.se/tre-former-av-empati/)