Is empathy crucial to how you coach? Well here’s some thoughts on how to use it…

I’m a big fan of using empathy in my coaching but the following from the book, Tell me the truth about love by Susanna Abse got me thinking about how well I really understand HOW and WHEN it might be of use.…

  • When we empathise with someone the same areas of the brain are activated showing that real empathy is a shared physiological experience (or feeling)
  • What actually happens is their situation connects us to an emotion that we have had in the past and we feel what the other person is feeling

The dictionary definition of empathy is wider than this and also includes imagining, being sensitive to or trying to understand the experiences of others. This wider view is what I had thought of as empathy (how about you?). Not now.

I now see the distinction between situations where I’ve been there and I can draw on the emotional connection to help someone (even if that’s the experience of supporting someone else through a similar situation) and when I haven’t where empathy might not be the best approach as I’m keen to avoid inaccurate imagining, not saying what is needed when trying to be too sensitive and focusing too much on my understanding of their experience rather than what they actually need.

It also made me think that at times I’ve tried to be empathetic but have probably just come across as feeling sorry for someone (or pity!!) – something I don’t love when people do it to me!!

I have to admit there are LOTS of grey areas when deciding which approach I might take – a real challenge and no doubt you can understand where I’m coming from. ?

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