Our last five posts about empathy have looked at what it isn’t and a summary of what it is, Then, in more detail, we began to look at the constituent parts of empathy – the ingredients, if you like.

Dr Teresa Wiseman breaks down empathy into 4 parts: we have to:

1. See the world as others see it

2. Be non-judgmental

3. Understand another’s feelings, and

4. Communicate that understanding*

In this post we’re going to explore a little of how we might begin to communicate empathy to others.

Communicate the understanding…

It seems obvious, but having all this understanding about how someone else might be feeling isn’t really any use to them if we don’t communicate it. They have to know that we understand and that we care.

Given that they’re in a difficult place at the moment, the onus is on us to make sure that we communicate effectively. It’s not enough, for example, to say something like, ‘they know I care, I don’t really need to go out of my way to make it obvious.’

The contrary is the case. If we don’t make it clear that we understand and that we care, they may assume that we don’t  – which is even worse!

Application: be deliberate

People suffering difficulties are, understandably, taken up with their own predicament and need us to be clear, explicit even, in our expressions of care and concern. Here are three broad areas where we might think about how to communicate more deliberately:

– VERBAL EXPRESSION – finding the right words to express our understanding of someone else’s suffering isn’t easy. But we can be sure we’ve communicated this if we say so. Choosing the right words may be tricky, but even trying to do so will help. We can say how difficult it must be, how challenging, how awful, even. Of course they know this already; but our saying so makes it clear that we are thinking about it and thinking about them and have some notion of what they’re going through. (see here for more on this)

– FACIAL EXPRESSION – the look on our face can speak as clearly as the words we use. Allowing our feelings of care and concern to show in our facial expressions is a sure way of adding clarity and weight to the words we use. Indeed. the words may seem trite and inadequate, but if our look is in tune with them, together they will get the point across. A simple guide is that our expression should match the words in some way – we’re talking about hard stuff, so our faces should reflect this.

– PHYSICAL EXPRESSION – this is about touch. Sometimes, when words fail, or even when they don’t, a physical gesture can mean so much. Caution is needed here with children in the professional sphere, of course, but many of us are in roles where we can suitably make physical contact in a safe, gentle and reassuring way. A hand on the shoulder or cupping an elbow with our hand can communicate-along with words and facial expression-that we understand and that we care.

All these things we do naturally and they’re obvious to those of us working with troubled kids.

But unless we are deliberate in communicating our concern, our empathy, then we’ll always be less effective than we could be.

Final word

In the end, empathy goes way beyond technique. It’s long been my view that when someone genuinely cares, something of this will come across to those we care for.

That said, if we can be deliberate and enhance our ability to communicate our concern, all the better!

Previous related posts

– How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 1…

How to teach empathy to troubled teens – part 2…

– Empathy 1 – What It Isn’t… (get the audio version of this post as part of the ‘Total Blog’ package on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 2 – What exactly is it?…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 3 – A child’s-eye view…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 4 – Being non-judgmental…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 5 – Understand another’s feelings… (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)


*Wiseman, T. (1996) A Concept Analysis of Empathy. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1996,23,1162-1167 – download.

Gordon, M. (2009) Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, The Experiment, New York – p.31 – learn more here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2018

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