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Empathy | Understanding and Valuing Individual Differences

”Empathy is walking with another person into the deeper chambers of his self – while still maintaining some separateness. It involves experiencing the feelings of another without losing one’s own identity. It involves accurate response to another’s needs without being infected by them…[The empathic person]…senses the other person’s bewilderment, anger, fear or love as if it were his own feeling, but he does not lose the ‘as if’ nature of his involvement.” Robert Bolton People Skills (Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 1987)

EmpowerMe goes deep into empathy as this is crucial for our personal and our professional empowerment development.


  • To understand the concept of empathy.
  • To explore communication patterns which block and which foster empathy.
  • To develop and practise the skill of active listening.

Session Times: 1 day

Background: The Win/Win Approach

What does the word “empathy” mean?

What helps you to feel empathy? What are some of the ingredients?

What does that feel like? What are the ingredients?

What are the key elements of empathy as a skill?

Exercise: providing participants with a framework for recognising and valuing different behavioural styles. Understanding others’ approaches to completing work, to problem-solving, to managing priorities, to dealing with feelings and so on, can help build empathy, relieve tension and minimise potential conflict.

What are the consequences of using empathy blockers, on communication, on the people involved, on problem-solving?

Would you expect different people to rate you differently? What factors affect your ability and/or willingness to listen effectively?

We listen for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is to gain information. Sometimes conflict can develop because vital information is missing or miscommunicated.
Studies have shown that immediately after people have listened to someone talk, they remember only about half of what they’ve heard. Then, within eight hours, they tend to forget one half to one third more of what they have heard

Too often we rely on others to give us all the information we need; or we have too much faith that we are using words in the same way. We may, in fact, be attaching different meanings or very different pictures to words.

What do we mean by giving affirmation to another person?

Good listening empowers speakers. It helps people verbalise what may not have been clear to them before. People can usually find their own answers. They are more likely to put their own plans into action rather than someone else’s well intentioned advice.
When people feel listened to, they will talk more freely about themselves. Even well-intentioned advising or diagnosing may block this communication.
Active listening may entice people to reveal more of themselves than they are really comfortable doing. They may later be highly embarrassed and distance themselves from the listener.

It is important to respect people’s comfort zones in personal communication. This applies particularly to work contexts where people often prefer to be private about personal issues.
There is a time to active listen, and there is a time to graciously add in our own perspectives. Look for cues from the other person to know when this is appropriate.
Really listening is far more than waiting for our turn to speak. We put so much attention on the other person that our own mental commentary is ”turned off” at that time.

When there is a conflict, it’s common to blame the other person or become extremely defensive. It is difficult to be objective when the emotional level is high. Active listening is an effective tool to reduce the emotion involved in a situation.

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