Don’t just tell me you understand, show me!

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds. ~Daniel Goleman

There are three kinds of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. These definitions were going through my mind as we experienced upheaval in cities across the country this past week.

Practice the Right Kind of Empathy

Daniel Goleman, author of best-selling Emotional Intelligence defines the first type of empathy, cognitive empathy as “simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking.” This type of empathy is what we might find helpful in the workplace or in financial negotiations.

The second kind of empathy is emotional empathy. Goleman tells us that this is “when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.” This may be the empathy we have with close friends or family members.

The third kind is compassionate empathy. “With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but we are spontaneously moved to help, if needed.” Compassionate empathy strikes a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy.

Example of Compassionate Empathy

I believe that one of the many challenges of the last week is that while some people are practicing cognitive empathy (saying you understand) what is needed is really compassionate empathy (showing you understand).

We’ve all likely seen the images of police officers around the country, and the world, taking a knee in a symbol of solidarity. They are showing that they understand. The sheriff in Flint, Michigan who put down his club and said he didn’t want to join them in a protest but in a parade. Which was received with smiles and cheers.

Compassionate empathy is a reflection of bold grace. It’s about not only letting your brain intellectually process what the other person(s) might be experiencing. It’s also about allowing yourself to feel what they might be feeling. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with their perspective; but it does mean you need to care about their perspective.

That said, officers taking a knee is not going to resolve the pain that has accumulated over decades. However, it is at least a step in the right direction. It’s leading in a time of crisis upon crisis with bold grace.

This week look for ways that you can “take a knee” and practice bold grace through compassionate empathy.

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