Have you ever heard someone say, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes?” This phrase is often related to empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Practicing empathy and being an empathetic person can create stronger bonds with colleagues, classmates, and family members.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a metaphor commonly used when someone is asking you to change your perspective and think about the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of another person.
The issue with doing that is people often misconceive what the people around them are really feeling based on surface-level information that they’ve been told or that they can see (environment, family dynamics, physical appearance, etc.)
This can also spark sympathy—feeling pity or sadness. Although not intentional, expressing sympathy leaves no room for further listening or questions about how they are actually doing.
Watch the video below of research professor, lecturer and author Brené Brown explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy.
For empathy to be truly valuable to another, you have to be present, listen, and connect.
You can’t be fully present with someone if your own head is cluttered with racing thoughts. Practicing a mindfulness meditation can lessen those feelings of anxiety and stress.
By taking a couple of minutes to decompress and return to a clear state of mind, you will be able to give 100% of your undivided attention to someone who needs you the most.
There is a difference between listening and hearing. Hearing is processing a sound as it hits our ears, whereas listening is paying attention to the sound that we hear with intent and consideration.
You can practice your active listening by:
- Not interrupting the conversation with your own thoughts and ideas (unless asked by the person you’re talking to)
- Making non-verbal cues (eye contact, nodding your head, not fidgeting too much)
- Avoid distractions (cellphone, television, video game, book, etc.)
- Remember that you are listening to understand, not to judge
By being present and active listening, you have the opportunity to connect with the person you are talking to. This might be through asking open-ended questions, talking about your own experiences (if you both are comfortable with sharing), or perhaps giving that person a hug and reminding them that it is okay and you are thankful that they are expressing themselves to you.
The most important part about connecting to someone is that you are being your true, authentic self.
Empathy is much more than just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes—it’s building that trusted presence that you will be there for them when times get tough. It’s training yourself to listen and evolve the conversation around someone who is hurting, and it’s connecting to the actual person they are and not their perception.
You are not alone. There is help.
If you cannot find someone you trust who is willing to support you, dial a crisis line right away at 403-266-HELP (4357) All crisis lines are confidential.