Empathy is defined as “the quality of recognizing and understanding another person’s desires, beliefs, and emotions.” It’s one of the most valuable skills we can ever acquire. Empathy cultivates meaningful relationships, reduces discrimination and negative assumptions, encourages honest communication, and can help deter violence. Studies have found that highly empathetic people are more confident and sensitive, and they enjoy better physical and mental health. Often described as looking through another person’s eyes or standing in someone else’s shoes, empathy connects us human-to-human.

How well do you practice empathy? Take this quiz to find out…

SET 1:
  1. If I don’t know enough to understand someone else’s difficulty, I try to expand my knowledge by asking questions. T/F
    2. I recognize that other people are different from me and might see and feel things differently from how I experience the same situation. I try to look at the situation through that person’s eyes, not my own. T/F
    3. I don’t need to be right about what I imagine the other person is feeling. If I’ve misunderstood, I ask the person to help me correct my impressions. Doing so allows me to learn more about him or her. T/F
    4. When I show that I understand the other person’s experience, I notice that he or she opens up more. T/F
    5. My irritation with someone often diminishes when I understand what’s going on inside him or her. T/F
    6. Being an active listener helps me “get” what another person is going through. T/F
    7. I try to focus on a person’s feelings, rather than on actions or circumstances. I realize that when people are upset, it’s better to guide them to work through and handle their feelings before helping them figure out how to solve their problems. T/F
SET 2:
  1. If a friend complains about a boss or co-worker, I’m likely to advise that person to find a new job, change departments, or speak up and voice his or her opinions. I like to be helpful by offering solutions. T/F
    2. I’m always ready to give a psychological analysis of someone’s troubles. T/F
    3. If a co-worker expresses anxiety about her relationship with her spouse, I’m quick to reassure her that all couples have their little issues and that she shouldn’t worry about it. T/F
    4. It appears that I always know better than my friends about what’s behind or underneath their problems. T/F
    5. When friends or loved ones are upset about something, I find a way to distract them or change the subject. T/F
    6. I’m quick to remind others that plenty of people are a lot worse off than they are. T/F
    7. When empathizing with someone, I imagine how I would feel in a given situation and assume the same would be true for him or her. We’re all basically the same, aren’t we? T/F

How did you score? If you answered true (“T”) more often in SET 2 than in SET 1, you might benefit from learning more about how to respond with empathy—how to really hear someone. I invite you to read “The Rewards of Really Listening.”

Real empathy can only occur when we have successfully shed our preconceived ideas and judgments about others—and when we’re comfortable with their deep feelings. Empathy is one of the greatest gifts you can give another person!