Reading, Understanding & Responding with Empathy

Awakening the gift of character, empathy, in our children and ourselves is a three step process. First, we must learn to read a person, their facial expressions, gestures and body language. We are looking to see if we see the signs of joy, sadness, frightened, surprise, disgust, frustration, disappointment. Once we identify a possible emotion, we move to step two. Now we will try to understand how they are feeling.

To know how they feel we are going to predict in our mind what they might be feeling. If we know the circumstances we may be able to make this prediction accurately or we may need to use our communication and listening skills to get this part correct. This is an area we must be careful that we don’t assume we understand. As an example, if a student is new in the class we may predict that they are nervous, scared or unsure. However, they may be feeling lonely or sad because they had to leave a familiar school with all of their friends. Understanding the real feelings is key to how we respond to them.

Replying to those around us is about giving them our full attention and using our receptive listening skills. Begin by asking, “What is happening?”, Or another general non-judgemental question. If we were to say to a person, “What’s wrong?” we are assuming that there is something wrong or that the person we are speaking to is wrong in feeling the way they do. Non-judgemental questions that are opening for the person to speak their mind are key to receptive listening. Then we must be quiet and listen, giving them the time to gather their thoughts and feel safe to express themselves.

Communicating feelings can be difficult for some individuals. Giving them the space to do so will help them express themselves in a respectful manner. If we are expressing our personal feelings, we want to do the same. Our speech when we are upset, angry, hungry or lonely can be made more respectful by slowing down and thinking about what we want others to hear. How we want to be and who we are in our very souls is how we want to express ourselves.

When we practice empathy, we give others the opportunity to be their very best selves also.

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