The 4 Cardinal Rules of Empathy


Do you ever wish you had more talent in a given area? Do you see others who seem to know what to do naturally, while you struggle mightily? Despair not. Did you know there is a tremendous upside to being terrible at something?

One area that I’ve always struggled with is being more empathetic to others. Without getting into my childhood and the patterns that shaped me, let’s just say on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is Hannibal Lecter and 10 is the Dalai Lama, I’m probably a 3 or on a generous day, a 4. That said, I believe you can learn and change. The upside to my being terrible at empathy was I could see very clearly the things that one should not be doing when trying to be more empathetic.

For your amusement and perhaps edification, below are my 4 Cardinal Rules of Empathy:

Rule #1: Never assume how another person is feeling

For example, avoid, "You must be (feeling)."

Instead, say "I imagine that might make you (feeling)."

Rule #2: Never reframe how they should feel

For example, avoid chucking optimism in their face, "At least (insert even worse situation)."

Instead say, "That seems (feeling)."

Rule #3: Never try to change how they are feeling

For example, hold off on the silver lining, "The good thing is (insert silver lining)."

Instead say, "I'm so sorry this happened."

Rule #4: Never assume that another person will react to a situation the same way you would

For example, avoid, “I totally know how you must feel.”

Instead, ask an obvious, but powerful question, “How are you feeling?”

What helps you be more empathetic? What empathy fails have you noticed yourself or others making? Please share in the comments below…