Empathy And Emotional Intelligence
What is empathy? “Empathy means to recognize others’ feelings, the causes of these feelings, and to be able to participate in the emotional experience of an individual without becoming part of it” (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008). Many people confuse sympathy with empathy, but they are extremely different. Sympathy is a passionate reaction that is instantaneous and unrestrained. Sympathy occurs when one person imagines himself in the position someone else is in. Empathy, however, is a skill that can be used to connect and appreciate others’ experiences and feelings. Research shows that we are programmed for empathy. As we get to know someone, it becomes easier to understand what they are feeling and why. This does not necessarily mean that we agree with what they are thinking and feeling. It just means that we can see things from their perspective. Empathy is a crucial skill for nurses to obtain. Empathy forms trust. Without this trust, patients will not work with us, and we will not be able to have a therapeutic relationship with them (Sterrett, 2014). How do I get more empathy?
It is undeniable that listening is central to effective communication. However, this skill does not come naturally to humans. Many people do not truly listen to others, but instead listen to respond. Humans are quick to give their own opinions without truly understanding the other person’s perspective. People find it difficult to truly listen and hold back their opinion when it is not appropriate (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008). Purnell (2018) shared how she felt while suffering from depression: Answering the question “how are you? ” became emotionally draining. Actually, that one question was why I stopped talking to people entirely. “How are you? ” is such a knee-jerk opening line to a conversation; most of us don’t even realize we’re saying it, or pay much attention to the typical response of, “I’m good. ” But I wasn’t good, or even okay, and saying it just to get past that question felt like a lie I didn’t want to explain.
As a cashier, I ask hundreds of people every day how they are just to make conversation. However, when someone responds with an answer other than “I’m good” it takes me aback. I do not know how to respond to any other answer because I am only used to hearing one. This is such a commonality in today’s society. We simply talk to talk. We do not talk to listen or connect. However, in order to have empathy for others we need to develop the skill of listening. What is emotional intelligence? “Emotional intelligence is someone’s ability: (a) to understand his feelings, (b) to listen to others and to feel them, and (c) to express his emotions in a productive manner” (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008). People that are emotionally intelligent do not try to trick people into thinking they are perfect. They acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses and continually work to improve themselves (Shaffer, 2017). One way to gauge your strengths and weaknesses is by asking those around you to give feedback. The larger the gap between your self-ratings and how others see them, the less emotional intelligence you have (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017).
This is a good way to understand what you are doing well, and what you need to work on. In the health profession, intellectual intelligence is often emphasized. However, emotional intelligence should not be overlooked. While health professionals need to have the knowledge necessary to treat patients, they also need to be able to emotionally connect with them. This is not possible without having a high level of emotional intelligence. What do empathy and emotional intelligence have in common? Without awareness of our own emotions we cannot have empathy. Being unable to recognize the emotions of others is a common problem that lowers our emotional intelligence. As health care professionals, we should be able to see the world through the patient’s eyes. We should also be able to balance the patient’s world with our own. If we drift too far to the patient’s side, we may fully identify with the patient and consequently lose our own role.
However, if we lean to far to the healthcare side, the patient feels like we do not care about or understand them (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008). In order to provide holistic care, we need to have a high level of emotional intelligence which includes a high level of empathy. By doing this, our patients will trust us and we can develop strong therapeutic relationships.