What is the Definition of Empathy and How to Use It?

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All good people strive to use empathy when dealing with other people and other people’s emotions. The only problem is, most people do not truly know what empathy is. We are going to dive into this subject and find out not only what empathy is, but also, how to use it correctly.

What is the Definition of Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This is a very easy concept to understand at a shallow level, but there is a much deeper understanding that you must have in order to use empathy. There is an old saying that people use when they try to use empathy. This saying is, “Walking in someone else’s shoes.” What Really is Empathy

Walking in Another’s Shoes

What does this saying actually mean? If you ask just about anyone, they will tell you that it means that you cannot understand how another feels or thinks until you walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. I like this saying because it seems easy to comprehend, but is it really?

It is easy to think you can understand where another person is coming from or another person’s point of view. This is the easiest way to accidentally misuse empathy when dealing with others. Not knowing how to properly use empathy can set up a person for being taken advantage of or even being misguided by his or her own thoughts.

How We Accidently Misuse Empathy

There is much more to empathy than just walking in someone’s shoes. Many people even get sympathy mixed up with empathy. This is the first way we misuse empathy. You can read more about this state of confusion by reading this earlier Walking in Another's Shoespost. They are two different things, but very close in definition. Still, they should not be confused with each other when you are trying to use empathy when dealing with others.

The second way we misuse empathy is by misunderstanding what it truly means to think like another person. See, everyone shapes his or her reality through their own beliefs and reactions to things in life. If you do not know how another person was raised or even the culture they grew up in, then it will be hard for you to use empathy correctly.

Many people try to use empathy by thinking, “What would I do if I was in the same situation”? This is not the correct way to try to see how another feels or thinks. You probably have a different, maybe not probably, but definitely a different look at life through and a different point of view than the one you are trying to be emphatic towards.

What you need to do is to think, “What would my friend do in this situation”? In order to be able to understand this, you will need to deeply know who the person you are trying to be emphatic towards is like as a person. This is why you cannot easily be empathetic towards a stranger or someone from a different culture.

You must deeply understand the other person in order to be empathetic

How Do You Learn About Another? What is an Empathy Map?

There is a great method used that can hep you figure out how to think like another person. This method is called using an Empathy Map. An Empathy Map helps you figure out how another person thinks, acts, does, and feels. You can do this by asking a series of questions that helps you get to know the person you want to show empathy towards.

When trying to foster empathy for other person, you cannot let your own interpretations or understanding of the world define what you think you know.

Empathy Maps are used by marketers and product creators to understand their target audiences. They use a series of questions to find out who his or her end user is, how they think, what problems they have, and how their problems can be solved.What is an Empathy Map

Avoid Injecting Your Own Thoughts and Beliefs about the Subject

When trying to foster empathy for other person, you cannot let your own interpretations or understanding of the world define what you think you know. You must find out how the other person experiences the world and other people.

See, if you think all people are good, but the other person thinks all people are bad, then you will not be able to put yourself in his or her shoes until you know this. If you look a problem through your own eyes and think, “what would I do,” then you are not being emphatic, you are injecting your own thoughts into the situation.

You need to be careful when injecting your own beliefs. You must not try to show you understand someone’s emotions by injecting your own thoughts or providing examples from your own world view. The other person will probably just agree with you, even though it may not be the truth.

How to you get to the truth without injecting your own beliefs? You do this by asking the right questions.

Ask the Right Questions to Get to Know Them

(1) The first thing you should ask a person you want to have empathy for is: How do you feel about the situation or what is happening. This is your chance to listen to what they say. You want to listen more than you speak. When they pause for a breath, don’t say anything. Don’t respond. Wait for them to tell you everything.

Repeat back to them a summary of what they just said. Just rephrase it. Do not add words or remove too many words from what they said. Then, ask them if you heard them correctly.

While they are answering you, notice what words they say or use. Do they speak in a positive or negative manner? Noticing these types of things as they speak can tell you a lot about a person.How Others Respond

(2) Ask them what they think they should do about situation. Don’t offer advice at this point. Just find out how they think, so you can get a better understanding of what type of person they are. Be careful not to judge them when you do this. You are not there to judge when you are learning how to use empathy.

Repeat back to them what they say again. Make sure you understand what they are saying.

(3) Ask them how they think about the situation or why they feel the way they do. Why are they upset? What could be different that would make them more happy?

Again, repeat what he or she says back to them. You do this so you can make sure you understand where they are coming from and it reassures them that you are comprehending what her or she is saying.

Other Questions You Might AskUsing Empathy to Know Someone

There are plenty of other questions you can ask when getting to know someone. You could ask them about his or her commute to work, the gym, the park, or home. Ask them what they see or notice every day. What things make them happy or even sad.

If they are from a different culture than you, ask them about their culture and how people from there react to these types of situations. What would his or her mother or father do in the same situation?

All the answers you get from these types of questions, the words they use, the looks on his or fer face, and even their body language can help you learn how to walk a mile in their shoes. Without knowing any of this, you cannot use empathy correctly.


It is great to think about others and try to see life from another’s point of view. This is especially true when you are trying to resolve conflicts, help ease another person, or even know what type of product you target market is looking for.

Empathy is a great skill to have, but you must make sure you are not being sympathetic when trying to be empathetic and that you are not injecting your own beliefs onto someone else.

Learn how to use empathy correctly with practice and then you will be equipped to go out there and solve other people’s problems if you want to.

==>I would love to hear your experiences, questions, and thoughts about this subject, so please feel free to leave a comment below. I normally respond within 24 hours. Feel free to share this information with anyone you think will benefit from it. Talk with you later, Greg<==

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