Empathy is a good thing. It means to get inside another person’s frame of reference, coming to a place of understanding–and in some way bringing support. Here’s a verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Empathy is one facet of emotional intelligence, and some people are more natural or skilled at it than other people are. Some people have greater depth–and breadth–in coming alongside of others. Recently I learned that there are at least three valid types of empathy. Each has its strength points and its points of vulnerability. Consider these and ask where you excel and where you can grow.
The first type of empathy is called Cognitive Empathy, and as you can guess, it leads with an intelligent framing of the issue. I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at this. I hear or see the predicament, and I often connect dots for others to bring perspective on their situation. I say things like, “Yeah, I get that. It totally makes sense that you would feel betrayed right now.” Or, “That’s gotta be rough. From what you told me, you’ve had three major losses in this season of life.” Often I’m told that my framing of an issue has given hearers the confidence to know their situation is manageable–or at least somewhat within bounds of the human condition. Cognitive empathy requires thought. It requires that we really do listen to others and do our best to help them make sense of their issue. Often it means slowing down long enough to think. Giving long, slow head nods and bringing good eye contact. We give occasional verbal cues that we’re engaged. We listen more than we talk–and we use autobiographical listening (telling our own story) only sparingly.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
So what’s not to love? Those who lead with cognitive empathy can sometimes be weak with the companion skill of sympathy. And sometimes they are slower to act in tangible ways that help others. In the next two blogs we’ll look at the other types of empathy, “Feeling” and “Responsive” and see what they bring to the table.
Part 2: Feeling Empathy
Part 3: Responsive Empathy