Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand and directly experience the emotion of another. It involves listening with heart, accepting their message and staying focused on their experience rather than reacting. It means understanding that the behaviour may be connected to something outside of the immediate situation.
(Sympathy is not empathy. Sympathy means feeling pity and sorrow for someone's misfortune, or the tendency to want to help them with what you see as something negative. This can send a message that you believe that others cannot arrive at their own solutions.)
Why is This Important?
Empathy is a value that all people that work with Aboriginal people need to have. There is nothing better in a relationship than people that understand us. It is wonderful to walk away from a conversation and think "they really did show they understood."
Empathy is being with a person using most of our senses. Seeing what their body language is when they are speaking: is it angry or are they quiet and possibly not wanting to talk at all? Does the body language match their tone of voice when you are listening to their story? Can you listen to the anger and hear why it is there? Can you hear the sadness in their voices; can you hear what makes them happy? Can you hear the story and see and understand why they feel the way they do? Can you listen without interruption? Can you say, "I'm sorry you feel this way' and mean it?"
If you can do all these things you could say you have empathy for why people feel the way they do. Empathy will build relationships faster than anything else.
Jennie Walker, Shuswap,
Canoe Creek/Dog Creek
Three Corners Health
Services Society, Williams Lake (Retired)
Demonstrates the Behaviour When
- Identifies one's own feelings and emotions and their impact on others
- Demonstrates understanding of what sparks one's own emotions
- Stays calm
- Listens instead of jumping in to solve the problems of others
- Listens openly, without judgment and without interrupting
- Recognizes and keeps in check personal biases and assumptions
- Acknowledges the experience of others
- Operates from a belief that each person has strengths and potential
- Continually explores the culture, history, issues and interests of Aboriginal people through a variety of methods
- Recognizes and interprets words, body language and non-verbal cues in a culturally appropriate manner
- Recognizes underlying concerns, feelings or interests in others that may not be verbally expressed
- Responds appropriately based upon relevant cultural knowledge
- Creates opportunities for meaningful conversation
- Models empathy so that others can learn from watching and experiencing
Needs Development When
- Is unaware of one's own feelings and emotions and their impact upon others
- Becomes emotionally provoked and acts upon it
- Asks questions that are interrogative or designed to satisfy personal curiosity
- Avoids conversations because of feelings of guilt, distress or anger when Aboriginal people talk about historical issues
- Identifies personally with the message, feelings and emotions to the point where it gets in the way of fully listening and being present
- Shows lack of attention when the feelings of others are expressed
- Expresses impatience when others are speaking and/or jumps to conclusions
- Demonstrates discomfort when feelings in a conversation are strong
- Intervenes or interrupts to fix or solve
- Fails to allow feelings to be fully expressed
- Judges some messages and emotions to be more important than others
- Relies on stereotyped explanations to account for the message and emotions of others
- Uses standard responses despite the differences in conversations.
- Sends Aboriginal people to others when there is potential for emotional