Empathy - what is empathic behaviour?

We all know, that empathy is an important element when building up new relationships. But what is true empathic behaviour?

One theory is, that "mirror neurons" enable us to step into somebody else's shoes and understand the thoughts and feelings of another person from that person's point of view. Empathic behaviour goes one step further; we are able to show and communicate that understanding to the other person. Science finds evidence for this theory in experiments like the "yawning experiment" with humans and chimpanzees. If you look around you with awareness and open eyes, you have for sure at least once observed a child consoling another crying child.

Another theory is the "theory of mind". It describes the ability to recognise your own thoughts and feelings and these of others and realise, that these are different to your own thoughts and feelings. The most famous experiments are babies or chimpanzees not recognising themselves in the mirror (whereas chimpanzees get it after some time), as they can not yet differentiate between themselves and others.

How would we now describe the behaviour of a highly emphatic person? Here are some of the characteristics of an empath:

  • give a person the full attention and very good in active listening

  • be present in the moment

  • are very good self-reflectors and self-regulators

  • have a big heart and open-minded interest in others

  • consider the other person's perspectives and absorb people's emotions

  • read and reflect nonverbal communication, highly intuitive and give space

  • ask questions instead of giving advice and use "we" and "us"

There are also empaths among the animals. Empathic behaviour has been observed with elephants, chimpanzees, orang-utans, dolphins, dogs and cats. Sometimes they behave even more empathic than many human beings.



Coming back to my questions in my last article: How can we adjust to this change and make the world a place to live for another 1000 years in an emphatic AND happy way? Where do we start? Spend money to WWF, World Vision and other Institutions doing the work for us? Take an airplane only when needed? Or start with ourselves and our behaviour?

So the conclusion for me is to continue with myself and my own behaviour, in an empathic and benevolent way towards others and myself. I started with the small things, like "just listening to somebody in distress", "give somebody a smile" or "buy a SURPRISE magazine from a homeless person". My hope; do one small thing every day and it will multiply like a wave. And I have more hope, as we in western countries have the luxury to pursue the search for happiness. So what is your one small emphatic token today?

In your private life, these small things are relatively easy to do. What about the business environment, where other rules are lived? Is it the same in all industries and sizes of companies? How far can we implement the empathy thought? Who can do it and how?


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Title Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash