The Role of Empathy in Social Interactions

Written by Penny Payton
March 18, 2023

In March we have an opportunity to celebrate the amazing people who are National Professional Social Workers, as well as to highlight Spiritual Awareness. Certainly, an integral component of each would be empathy. As individuals, our interactions with each other can make or break us in a variety of ways. The ability to maintain composure and balance in our conversations is vital to not only the wellbeing of our relationships but also our own emotional health.

Empathy is described as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To expand on this, our own ability to empathize is invaluable in accessing the emotional state of those we engage with. It is common for most of us to be emotionally guarded with nearly everyone we interact with, at least to some degree. Obviously, the less guarded we feel the need to be, the deeper the connections we will be able to establish with others.

The feeling of being both heard and understood, goes a long way in building the trust needed to feel safe around another person. Empathy helps us read the reactions and responses we receive, which helps us to hold a positive place within the conversation.

A few tips to heighten social emotional competency:
Practice active listening. A person will most likely feel heard and understood when the listener is focused and present in the conversation. If your wheels are turning as you try to formulate a reply, you are not actively listening.

Acknowledge and validate emotional experiences that have been shared with you. Because most people have at least some difficulty feeling comfortable with their emotions, this practice helps them release some of their angst, by feeling less alone in their process.

Be open-minded, reserve opinions and judgement. We can never know what anyone’s day, week, year, or life has been like and what state they come to us in. Each persons perceptions is based on their individual unique set of experiences.

Don’t be overly self-involved. If someone has sought you out and been clear that they need an ally, understand the conversation may be one-sided. Needing to share your story with someone who is in search of help processing their own will only add to their discomfort.

Don’t assume your advice is wanted. Unless they have specifically asked you for it, let go of any need you may have to advise, direct, or assist. We can only change ourselves, no one else.

Practice, practice, and practice. Putting all five of these tips together in each conversation will take a dedicated effort, but it will pay off in the long run. Taking time with your introspective process and gaining a better understanding of your ability to manage and take responsibility for your emotions will help strengthen empathy.

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