by Martha Pasternack
Many life coaching professionals speak about empathy. It has been written about in journals and taught in schools and life coach training programs. It is a Key Element in our own IAC Mastery #2 Perceiving, Affirming and Expanding the Client’s Potential. So, what does empathy mean?
For me the operative word is expanding. When we expand the circle of exploration with our client, they can be clearer to perceive and affirm their potential. More simply put: We create more personal growth elbowroom.
I speak from the perspective I have gained as a health care professional and as a certified Fearless Living Life Coach. Empathy, as defined in the Webster’s Dictionary I have had since I was a college freshman defines empathy as:
Notice the definition does not say to feel sorry for someone, or to try and fix someone by imposing our own experience on them. Nor does empathy suggest we really know anything at all about what another person might be feeling, enabling us to alleviate his or her pain.
I would like to take poetic license and offer my definition of empathy as being able and willing to create space for another person to have his or her own experience of a feeling, situation and motive. The moments in my career that I was able to be most empathic were the times I was able to be present enough with my client or my patient to allow them the space to have their own experience. It was independent of mine. It had nothing to do with mine. What we shared in common was the fact that we have had unique and personal experiences of life. By doing so we teeter on the knife-edge of creating or encouraging client dependency, which is a Mastery #2 no-no.
We may also inadvertently imply the “If I can do it you can do it” message, which may not be true for our client and, in fact, is noted as a common misunderstanding of Mastery #2: Pushing the client to do or be more. Potential, as mentioned in this article, awaits the client’s recognition. Just because we can see their potential does not necessarily indicate our client’s readiness to act on it. That patience on our part calls for empathy.
How do you define empathy?
Where are you able and willing to practice empathy with your clients?
When are you open to receive empathy from others?
Martha Pasternack, MMC www.CircleofLifeCoach.com