Empathic a Definition

If you are looking for a definition of ’empathic’, I hope this article will be of help. The term “empathic” is commonly about a person’s ability to sense and understand another person’s emotions and mood. In particular how they would feel given the circumstances they find themselves in. A definition of empathic would be the ability really to use the imagination to understand what someone else might be feeling or thinking.

Giving empathic a definition

If is often when meeting someone without this quality of empathy that we can more easily give definition to empathy. Someone who lack empathy, will not understand the emotions or experience someone would have in a given situation. It might be the tactless remark or thoughtless comment. It might be when you feel hurt by your boss’ dismissal of your clear distress or a spouse or partner’s lack of understanding during a discussion.

Many researchers will differentiate between empathy which is “Affective empathy” and empathy which is “Cognitive empathy”.  A definition of “Affective empathy” will point to the sensations and feelings a person has in response to another’s’ emotions. For example the ability to mirror what the other person is feeling or to feel also some stress when one detects that the other person is experiencing fear or anxiety. A definition of “Cognitive empathy,” would point towards what is also referred to as “perspective taking”. In other words, can a person identify and thereby understand someone else’s other people’s emotions. Studies show that people with autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty empathizing.

Many authors talk and define empathy and empathic listening. We will talk about one, Stephen Covey.  Stephen Covey talked and gave definition to empathic listening in his well known book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He talked about the idea of an empathy bank account.

A definition of empathy and the ‘Emotional Bank Account’. 

The following ideas are from “THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE” by Stephen Covey.

We all know what a financial bank account is. We make deposits into it and build up a reserve from which we can make withdrawals when we need to. An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. Included in a definition of empathic listening, will also be somewhere a tacit nod to how much trust the person being heard feels. One can have empathy but empathic listening requires trust also. You can think about the trust built up as a bit like a bank account, containing empathy rather than cash. In an interaction, an Emotional Bank Account will indicate the feeling of safety you have with another human being.

 If I make deposits into an Emotional Bank Account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it. My communication may not be clear, but you’ll get my meaning anyway. When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.  But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn. The trust level gets very low.

Empathic Listening

 “Seek first to understand” involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. A good addition to a definition of empathy or definition of empathic listening will involve losing an agenda or ‘intent’.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.

 “Oh, I know exactly how you feel!”  “I went through the very same thing. Let me tell you about my experience.”  They’re constantly projecting their own home movies onto other people’s behaviour.  If they have a problem with someone — a son, a daughter, a spouse, an employee — their attitude is, “That person just doesn’t understand.”

We want to be understood

Our conversations become collective monologues, and we never really understand what’s going on inside another human being.

When another person speaks, we’re usually “listening” at one of four levels.

  • We may practice selective listening, hearing only certain parts of the constant chatter of a preschool child.
  • Or we may even practice attentive listening, paying attention and focusing energy on the words that are being said.
  • But very few of us ever practice the fifth level, the highest form of listening, empathic listening.    

When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand. I mean seeking first to understand, to really understand. It’s an entirely different paradigm. Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person’s frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Sympathy is a form of judgment. And it is sometimes the more appropriate emotion and response. But people often feed on sympathy. It makes them dependent and feel belittled and talked down to. The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone; it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.  Empathic listening involves much more than registering, reflecting, or even understanding the words that are said. Communications experts estimate, in fact, that only 10 percent of our communication is represented by the words we say. Another 30 percent is represented by our sounds, and 60 percent by our body language. In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behaviour. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.

Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of

projecting your own autobiography and assuming thought, feelings, motives, and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul. In addition, empathic listening is the key to making deposits in Emotional Bank Accounts, because nothing you do is a deposit unless the other person perceives it as such. You can work your fingers to the bone to make a deposit, only to have it turn into a withdrawal when a person regards your efforts as manipulative, self-serving, intimidating, or condescending because you don’t understand what really matters to him or her.

Four Autobiographical Responses

When we listen autobiographically, we tend to respond in one of four ways:

  We evaluate — we either agree or disagree; we probe — we ask questions from our own frame of reference; we advise — we give counsel based on our own experience; we interpret — we try to figure people out, to explain their motives, their behaviour, based on our own motives and behaviour.    

These responses come naturally to us since we are deeply scripted in them; we live around models of them all the time. But how do they affect our ability to really understand?

For example, if I’m trying to communicate with my son, can he feel free to open himself up to me when I evaluate everything he says before he really explains it? Am I giving him psychological space?   And how does he feel when I probe? Probing is playing 20 questions. It’s autobiographical, it controls, and it invades.