Emotional Wellness @ Work

Empathy is not something we either have or don't have. Empathy is a skill we can develop that can help us show up for other people when they are having a hard time.

Empathy is about letting someone know they are not alone in their pain. It is communicating that you are in it with them, see them suffering, and communicating that their emotional pain matters to you. Empathy is best seen as "stepping into a state of service" for another person in moments when they are having a hard time. Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, has defined the 4 elements of empathy as follows:

1) Stay out of Judgment

You cannot simultaneously be judging someone and have empathy for them. In order to extend empathy to someone you have to suspend your personal judgment and approach them with an open heart and open mind. Sympathy recognizes that the person is having a hard time, but typically has judgment involved - as in "you poor thing".

2) Perspective Taking

Perspective taking is the art of looking at a situation through the identity lens and experiences of the person having the experience - not through your own identities/experiences. Perspective taking reduces the likelihood of implicit bias short circuiting your attempt to demonstrate care.

3) Identifying what the person is feeling

Can you identify, quietly to yourself, what this person is feeling right now. Is it more than one emotion they seem to be having? Can you make space for them to be feeling competing and conflicting emotions? Can you identify in your own experience what it feels like to FEEL these emotions? Being able to name and experience your own emotions is essential to your ability to offer empathy to others.

4) Demonstrating care that the person is feeling what they are feeling

People are sometimes hesitant to lean in and be with someone who is having a tough time because they don't know what to do, or how to fix the situation. Empathy has nothing to do with fixing. Empathy is not about the content of the person's situation, it is about tending to the emotional experience the person is having. Empathy is about caring, and more specifically it is about tangibly demonstrating to the person that you care - so they feel seen, heard, and cared for and supported.

To explorethe difference between empathy and sympathy watch this 3-minute talk by Dr. Brenè Brown

Assess your current capacity for empathy by completing this quiz – Berkley Empathy Quiz

To learn more visit the empathy section of our Emotional wellness resource page where you will find a wide variety of excellent resources on this topic.

Related Articles

Emotional Wellness @ Work

Resources to Help You Navigate Fall Semester 2020

Resilience training and grief and loss support services are available for MSU faculty, staff, and graduate student employees.

Emotional Wellness @ Work

Cultivating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

3 ways leaders can create a greater sense of psychological safety in the workplace.

World Mental Health Day October 10, 2017
Emotional Wellness @ Work

Take Advantage of MSU Mental Health Services on World Mental Health Day!

Today happens to be World Mental Health Day, and it turns out that MSU offers a wide range of accessible programs and services that can help improve your mental health. So, why not take care of yourself and try one today?

Emotional Wellness @ Work

Taking Care of You, While Taking Care of Business

Tips for supporting your emotional well-being during stressful times

More Emotional Wellness Articles

Find a Class

Browse all courses

Search Health4U

Food and Nutrition Counseling Services

Food and Nutrition Counseling Services provides you with access to accurate health and lifestyle information, helping you to explore new behaviors and skills, and identifying useful campus and community resources.

MSU community members eligible for food and nutrition counseling services include faculty, staff, graduate assistants, retirees and the spouses/partners of members of these groups.

To schedule an appointment with Health4U you are not required to email us from your MSU email address; please email us from the email address you are most comfortable with. 

Read More

Departmental Services

The goal of department based services is to provide work units and colleagues the opportunity to learn about health and wellness as a group activity or exploration.  

Read More

Health e-Guide

This guide has been discontinued and is no longer viewable.

Visit Health e-Guide