The Power of Empathy

The Power of Empathy, LVBX Magazine
Empathy is a powerful state of being, and it is a powerful tool for building intimacy in relationships. I define intimacy as, “in-to-me-see.”

Practicing empathy means I can let your stuff be your stuff, because I know that everything you say is giving me information about you, even when it has my name attached to it. It requires me to listen hard.


Practicing empathy means I can let your stuff be your stuff, because I know that everything you say is giving me information about you, even when it has my name attached to it. It requires me to listen hard.


And as I listen hard, it requires me to stay vulnerable, because empathy is a two-way street. Everything I say is giving you information about me.

Marshall Rosenberg told me that when practicing empathy, he is “not home.” If he comes home to his own heart and starts having feelings, then he needs to take a break and take care of himself so he can come back to the other person. I often experience this in mediation when the parties share something that feels very familiar. I may start to have a reaction or a judgement, and because I have the ethical responsibility of neutrality, I may need to take a time out and deal with my own feelings so I can come back to the parties without an agenda. When practicing empathy, I take nothing personally. It’s really that simple.

Simple does not mean easy, and in my most intimate relationships practicing empathy is quite different that in my professional life.

The other day my teenaged step-daughter got snippy with me via text in response to a “no.” As soon as I saw the text, my mind started placing blame. I caught myself before I texted back an equally snippy, defensive response like, “you didn’t give me the whole story the first time” or “you need to get some balance in your life” or “don’t get snippy with me, young lady!”

“Whoa. Wait a minute,” I said to myself. (Yes, I listen to the conversations I have with myself, and I get lots of valuable information.) I sat down and stopped what I was doing and noticed the subtle constriction in my throat and chest. My heart rate was up just a bit, so I sat some more and just paid attention. It didn’t take long for the fear and sadness to come up.

“Ouch! I am not comfortable being the bad guy, and really want her to see that I am overwhelmed with holiday aftermath. I try hard to accommodate what she wants to do, but this time I really need to accommodate myself. Her response really hurts my feelings. I feel sad, because I want her to recognize that my ‘no’ is not flippant or arbitrary. I want her to see my efforts and my intentions.”


The ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person, to take their perspective, is empathy, and empathy creates connection.


As soon as I got there, my feelings dwindled. I saw my own intentions. I acknowledged my own efforts, and I acknowledged my own needs. Then I saw her disappointment – the disappointment that came with my “no.” Can I take responsibility for that and still hold my “no”? The answer was yes, and the only response I gave was, “I’m sorry, too. I see how disappointed you are.”

The ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person, to take their perspective, is empathy, and empathy creates connection. It’s like Wi-Fi. If you set up a connection everyone in the home gets to share the benefits.


DEBORAH_DENSONDeborah Denson is a Mediator and Conflict Coach in Nashville, TN. She shares her personal journey learning to manage conflict and life in general on her blog, where she combines original art and wit into a daily dose of insight and humor for readers.

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