The root of the word empathy is PATHOS — the Greek word for feeling. SYMpathy means acknowledging the feelings of someone else as in, "I sympathize with you." EMpathy is a term for a deeper feeling. It means, "I feel what you feel. I can put myself in your shoes." Sympathy results in kindness and sometimes pity. Empathy results in actually feeling the pain, or the joy, of the other person.
Empathy is a key skill taught in negotiating. William Ury, in his book, GETTING PAST NO, makes the point that every human being has a deep need for his or her feelings to be recognized. Knowing this can help tremendously in a difficult negotiation by creating a climate for agreement.
Ury counsels that it's important to acknowledge both the factual point and the feelings of the other person. He uses the example of an employee approaching a boss. The employee says, "I just found out Dale makes two thousand dollars more a year than I do for the same job." Trying to explain why Dale makes more money, even if the reason is a good one, only makes the employee angrier. Instead, you must acknowledge the fact and the feelings first. "You think we're taking advantage of you and you're angry. I can understand that. I'd probably feel the same way."
That isn't what an angry person expects. By acknowledging the employee's feelings, you've helped him calm down. His next statement might be: "Well, why shouldn't I make as much as Dale does?" That shows he's ready to hear your explanation.
The feeling of empathy is much easier to come by when you care about the other person and take the time to feel what they're feeling. In the worlds of business, politics, or the professions, that feeling of empathy may not come as easily.
All the great teachers of empathy for others start with the same point: You cannot truly feel the pain or the joy or the emotion of another until and unless you're able to feel the same thing in yourself. Do you acknowledge your own pain? Can you feel your own joy? Real empathy lies in simply finding the same place within yourself that the other person is experiencing. You might not have had exactly the same experience, but you've known the sadness of loss or the anger of feeling cheated, or the sense of righteousness at injustice. Some of us don't take the time to feel our own feelings, so when someone else expresses a feeling, we don't have much to refer to.
Let me give you another tip. Sometimes we can share a deep feeling vicariously through reading a great novel or seeing a powerful movie. If you're on a steady diet of action movies, they don't usually dwell on individual feelings. You might want to take the time to broaden your reading and viewing habits.
Men are being encouraged to express and share their feelings more these days through the efforts of Robert Bly and others. And not just soft, vulnerable feelings, but feelings of anger and frustration as well. You might be concerned that expressing a caring approach toward another person will result in the other person manipulating you. This isn't about abdicating your own needs or point of view. It simply means that you're able to step into the shoes of another and acknowledge their feelings. Having that ability is an asset. You can always wear your own shoes, and you do most of the time.