It's becoming more and more important, social intelligence, and empathy is the active ingredient. Success in business, success in politics, success in family and friendship-- it all depends upon this.
I promise I'll fill in the blanks in a week or two, talk more about it, but it isn't natural, mind-reading. It is a skill and it rides upon words, not divination.
You would think that reading people's feelings is easy. Some of us wear our emotions on our sleeves, but even these are misinterpreted. Many of us do a fairly good job, intuiting what others are feeling. We can tell when we have upset someone, we can tell when someone is angry. We can feel the anxiety of a spouse who wants to leave earlier for the airport.
Some of us care more than others, is the truth. We tune in better, more often. We're the ones who teach others how to do it, because we're the ones who see that it works. We need it, no question, to be successful (depending, granted, upon one's definition of success).
You can teach people to empathize in therapy and in group training sessions, because they want to learn. They already care. There is no beginning, it is a homeostatic system. Caring people empathize and empathetic people care. They watch their words, how their actions affect others. Most of couples therapy is founded upon this principle: If you care, you'll feel your partner's worries and you won't like how it feels.
Another way to say it is that if one of you has a problem, the other has a problem, too.
So how do we do this, empathy training? A grown man will cry when his favorite team loses, will bang the table when the ball is fumbled. But he might call his kid a cry baby for crying over a lost toy.
So one way is to say, Your team lost a game and you felt bad. The kid lost a toy. Same feeling. Why would you want him to feel bad?
When we run groups, when we teach a room full of people to become empaths, the procedure is a little different, more provocative. But the idea is the same. The job is getting inside someone's head, reading someone's feelings implies feeling our own, making comparisons.
Empathy training is a little more complicated than that, but there are tricks, and we have to begin to talk about it.
Linda Freedman, LCSW, LMFT, PhD