It’s no surprise that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with many demands and increased stress in the workplace. Variant surges, staffing challenges, masks, vaccine debates; it’s a constant barrage of events that can leave us all feeling – well – fried. Despite this, there are some people who never seem to be stressed or overwhelmed. There are those people who appear to carry on despite challenges or difficult conditions. What is their secret? Chances are, it’s empathy. Or more specifically, they are tapped into the stress-relieving powers of compassionate empathy.
Wait, there’s more than one type of empathy? Yes! Psychologists have defined three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. So, if compassionate empathy is the secret to stress relief, it’s important to be familiar with the other types of empathy and where they fit in.
This form of empathy is often referred to as perspective-taking. It’s understanding on an intellectual level how another person feels and what they might be thinking. For example, most of us can understand sadness, but know it isn’t the same thing as feeling sad. Cognitive empathy is most helpful in situations where you need to interact with diplomacy and understanding, such as a team meeting. However, because it is brain based, it can be disconnected from emotions and come across as cold and detached. While cognitive empathy has its place, it’s not exactly the type of empathy we are looking for to recharge our batteries.
Renowned psychologist, Daniel Goleman, said that emotional empathy is “when you feel physically along with the person, as though their emotions were contagious.” Cringing when someone smacks their head or stubs their toe is emotional empathy. This sort of empathy is linked straight to the heart and forges strong bonds of human connection. Emotional empathy is most helpful in close personal relationships. Be aware, there can be a dark side to emotional empathy. It’s very hard to help someone else when one is overcome by emotion. Feeling too much can cause exhaustion that will eventually lead to burnout. Therefore, emotional empathy is not the best choice to sustain us through challenging times.
This is it! The type of empathy that connects the brain and the heart – compassionate empathy. When expressing compassionate empathy, one grasps the situation and feels with the other person while being compelled to help them. It’s the middle ground of responding with understanding but not becoming overwhelmed by emotions. It is the connection that drives us to action. There are very few drawbacks to this form of empathy, and it is the prescription to combat burnout.
A Daily Dose of Vitamin CE
Advantages of compassionate empathy are two-fold: others benefit from it, and we do too!
Empathy with action is good for patients and co-workers. It creates a safe space for others to be present with their emotions and is conducive to collaborative problem solving. Empathic communication fosters trust, de-escalates conflict, reduces errors and improves emotional health. When we build trust, others are more willing to receive information and act on it. Research by Massachusetts General Hospital proves this notion to be true. Their study linked empathy with improved clinical outcomes and increased patient satisfaction scores.
Compassionate empathy is also good for us. When we are tuned in to each other, it can help identify concerns, improve job performance and buffer against burnout. Research shows that caring for and feeling cared for by others can lower blood pressure and increase immunity. Displaying compassionate empathy produces a calming effect and strengthens long-term sustainability. Who doesn’t need that nowadays?
Compassionate empathy is something that can be learned! Here are a few quick tips to help cultivate empathy:
- Ask questions. Curiosity and empathy are linked together. Studies have shown that highly empathic people are naturally inquisitive. Boost your daily empathy requirements by asking questions and trying to understand the perspective of another person.
- Actively listen. Many times, we listen while developing our response or defense to what another person is saying. When we do this, we are not able to hear what they are saying and can miss key pieces of information. To increase empathy, master the art of active listening.Be present and listen to understand.
- Be vulnerable. Empathy is reciprocal. To see and understand emotions in others, you must be able to recognize and understand those emotions in yourself. Real vulnerability coupled with empathy is expressing yourself as genuinely as possible and meeting the other person where they are. Letting down walls is essential to creating an empathic bond
While the demands of COVID-19 are still present, we can protect ourselves and others with compassionate empathy. And in the midst of these demands, it may not seem like our fast-paced work environment supports us in taking time to connect with others. But it should and it does! Infusing compassionate empathy into your daily interactions will save time, build trust and reduce stress. Empathy is a conscious choice for us to make. The good news is that the more we practice using empathy, the more intuitive it becomes.
- Know your limits. Too much of a good thing can deplete your emotional resources, so be aware of when you are needing some self-care. Investing in self-care allows you to cope with stress and give more to others. Seven in 10 people feel happier after taking time for themselves. So take care of yourself!