Today, we’re going to talk about empathy.
Sonia Thompson was the first guest author at Primility.
Her post back in 2014, 4 Lessons Learned During My Two-Month Adventure in Breathtaking South America, took Primility readers along on her adventures during two months traveling through four countries in South America, a time when, as she said, “Primility moments of truth … were at the forefront of her mind on a daily basis.”
I have had the great pleasure of working with Sonia in various capacities over the last few years, and I am always struck by the magnificent positivity of her attitude, the enthusiasm of her work ethic, and insatiable nature of her desire to learn, improve, and challenge herself.
So when she asked if she could contribute to Primility Primer, I was ecstatic.
And, not at all to my surprise, she went above and beyond to produce an interesting, entertaining, and inspiring episode.
To get more from Sonia, go to the URL primility.com/sonia, and it will redirect you to page at Sonia’s website where you can register for her free Entrepreneur Survival Summit. Sonia was kind enough to ask me to participate in this event, which I did quite happily. Most of our discussion centers around Primility.
What does Sonia’s virtual summit consist of? Over the course of several weeks, 35+ experts share how to develop an elite entrepreneurial mindset, so you can build a thriving business, live the good life, and change the world. You’ll get the actionable strategies you need to move forward.
And in this Primility Primer, Sonia discusses one of those actionable strategies — which is essential for entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike.
That strategy is practicing empathy, which will help you in any and all walks of life.
Here, now, is Sonia Thompson on the truth about empathy …
The truth about empathy
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
In a New York Times article, entitled “Empathy is Actually a Choice” the authors offered a research-backed point of view of their premise:
Empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The ‘limits’ to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel.
In the article, the authors also cited research that shows we tend to demonstrate less empathy when it comes to people of different races, nationalities, and creeds.
To make sure we’re all on the same page about what empathy is, one research study noted that there are four defining attributes of it:
- See the world as others see it
- Be non-judgmental about another’s feelings or situation
- Understand another’s current feelings
- Communicate the understanding of the other person’s feelings
I recently had an experience where I took the opportunity to walk around in someone else’s skin, and it was eye opening. Here’s what went down.
The pride and humility of empathy
Meet Guillermo. He’s a tango dancer, a yoga instructor, and he’s starting a business where he provides tips to help people have a happy body:
Guillermo is from Argentina, and he lives in Buenos Aires.
He just started focusing on learning English a little over a year ago.
I interviewed Guillermo a while back as part of an online conference I’m hosting. I felt his knowledge and expertise would be beneficial to the attendees.
Ours was his first on-camera interview. And it was also his first interview in English. I’m sure the only reason he agreed to it, was because he’s my boyfriend.
To continue this story, you need some background for context.
Guillermo speaks to me in English. I talk to him in Spanish. As crazy it sounds, it’s how we are best able to communicate, and it’s how we both work on getting better at learning our new languages.
To prepare for the interview, Guillermo had the questions in advance, we practiced a few times, and I promised to speak slow so he could understand.
More context: When I talk my average speed in English, it is hard for Guillermo to understand me. It’s the same for me when he speaks his usual speed in Spanish.
So this interview added another layer of difficulty for him, because in addition to speaking in English, he also had to listen to me asking questions in English.
Back to the story.
Things were going well until I deviated from the script:
We finished the interview – and after that brief little hiccup, things went well.
Once we finished recording, I was pleased that I got what I needed for my project. But I was keenly aware that somebody I cared about had to stretch far outside his comfort zone to make it happen.
I wanted him to end on a high. I wanted to allow him an opportunity to shine. I wanted him to know that I recognized how difficult it was for him to do this favor for me.
I wanted to empathize.
Because of Primility, empathy is much more at the forefront of my mind.
So I suggested we do the interview again, this time in Spanish. My pride said to me “Your Spanish is good enough to do this. No problemo.”
But I was quickly humbled when things didn’t go so smoothly.
For starters, because this was spontaneous, I had to quickly translate my carefully crafted questions in my head. Difficult.
Not smooth at all.
At one point, my translation was so bad, it threw Guillermo off:
It wasn’t pretty. Guillermo spoke at his usual pace during the Spanish interview, so I didn’t understand everything. As such, I couldn’t ask any follow-up questions. That meant I did not feel in control of this interview.
We got both interviews done. Guillermo got to share is expertise in a format more comfortable to him. I was able to see the difficulty in what I asked him to do.
And together, we were able to gain a greater appreciation for each other, and the challenges we experience when operating in the other’s native language.
The linchpin of empathy
The original premise we began with is that empathy is a choice. And it’s a choice we all could make more often.
But when we choose not to be empathetic to those around us, it’s often not because we’re being malicious.
It’s because being empathetic requires vulnerability. And vulnerability is only possible when your pride and humility are in balance.
If you’ve got too much pride, you won’t be willing to take your armor off. You won’t risk the discomfort and pain that may come in the process of connecting with another person and walking around in their skin.
According to Brene Brown researcher and best-selling author,
Empathy is about being present with someone, and if you are present and engaged and take the armor off, you’ll know what that person across from you needs.
Taking our armor off requires vulnerability.
Here’s what Sara Wachter-Boettcher of the Pastry Box Project had to say about empathy and vulnerability:
We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open — truly open — to feeling emotions we may not want to feel. It means allowing another’s experiences to gut us. It means ceding control. Empathy begins with vulnerability.
Empathy is a choice to extend ourselves to others. Empathy is a choice. Empathy requires practice.
You can begin practicing my making yourself vulnerable more often.
Ready to begin? What can you do to allow yourself to be more vulnerable today? Share it in the comments or join us over in the Facebook discussion group. This is a safe space.
Sonia Thompson is content marketing strategist that’s obsessed with roaming around South America. She helps entrepreneurs combine the right mindset with the right strategy to grow their businesses. Sonia is also the host of the Entrepreneur Survival Summit, a free virtual conference that’s all about helping business owners think like successful entrepreneurs. Jerod Morris is a featured speaker. Go here to grab your free ticket.