Empathy – Do You Feel What I Feel?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what qualities make a good friend, partner and actually even someone you’d choose as a trainer. There are the obvious choices:

  • Honest
  • Kind
  • Fun
  • Sense of Humor
  • Shared Interest
  • Intelligence and Knowledge

Recently there’s another quality I’ve added to the list and that’s Empathy. The definition for empathy from Dictionary.com

em·pa·thy [em-puh-thee] – noun

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

I think this is often overlooked when we are accessing potential friendships, relationships and even trainers or business partners. Why is empathy important? Because having empathy means this person can relate to how you feel or what you are going through. Why does that matter? When someone lacks empathy- they lack the ability to see things from your perspective or to realize how their actions or words can impact you.

I’ll give you some examples!

As a trainer – while I may have never really struggled with a serious weight issue – how good would I be if I could not empathize with clients who do? While I can’t fully know how it feels to care 40 extra pounds I can relate to working towards a goal that at times feels impossible. I can relate to not feeling good about myself and struggling to get started. I can relate to the pressures to fail because it’s easier. If I couldn’t empathize with my clients, I don’t think I could honestly and successfully motivate them. If I didn’t have empathy I might find myself criticizing clients for not working hard enough or caring enough because the weight is coming off slowly.

As a friend – when I see my friend hurting because of a failed relationship or fertility struggles I can relate to how I would feel if what I really wanted was taken from me.  I may not have had the same experiences but I can still listen and put myself in their shoes.  I had a friend a couple years ago upon hearing about the end of my relationship – a relationship I was truly invested in – say to me “C’est la vie- on the the next I suppose”.  That’s lack of empathy.  She could not see how much I was hurt by the situation or realize how her callous words made matters worse. Overtime, this lack of empathy has changed our friendship to more of acquaintances.

In a relationship, having empathy allows us to better connect and relate with a partner.  It’s inevitable we don’t always like or want the same things.  We have our own opinions but having empathy allows us to understand why our partner may like, want or feel a certain way.  We don’t have to agree but we should aspire to try to understand.

Here are some examples of lack of empathy that I have encountered recently:

  • A Yoga instructor criticizing a student for his lack of flexibility and pushing him to ‘try harder’
  • A friend changing plans at the last minute without regard to how this will affect the others involved.
  • A client cancelling at the last minute because something fun popped up.

Empathy is something I plan on working on … it’s a quality I think is important. I don’t have to agree but I should at least try to understand how my actions and words may affect another person and understand where they are coming from. I’d rather surround myself with a few good empathetic people than a bunch of sometimes considerate people. How do you feel about Empathy?

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