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Carl Marci of Harvard University has extracted from his extensive data something he calls a “logarithm for empathy.”(i) It’s all about the interplay of two people as they enjoy a deep connection of rapport.
Here’s how you can put it to work:
1. Use your heart – your subjective side – to feel what you believe your partner is feeling.
2. Use your head – your objective side – to consider whether or not your emotions for your partner are accurate.
Sound simple, right? Well, it’s not always easy.
Empathy requires both your head and your heart. It requires you to sympathize with your heart and analyze with your head – at the same time. And that’s why so many people who think they are empathizing aren’t even coming close. More often than not, they are projecting their own feelings onto their partner without using their objective and analytical capacity to see how accurate their emotional perception really is.
Consider an example. You’re on a date and your partner says something about having a rotten day because of a conflict at work. You immediately think about how you would feel if you were in your partner’s shoes. So you say, “I bet you’re feeling depressed,” or “I bet you’d like to forget today ever happened,” or “I bet you’re ready to just relax.” Whatever you say, you are projecting your own desire or experience onto your partner – unless you use your head to step back and say, “I know how I’d feel if I had a day like that, but how do you feel?” You may discover that your partner want to talk about it, not forget the day happened. You may discover that your partner isn’t feeling depressed, but relived that an issue at work is finally on the table.
You get the idea. Trading places is two-sided. It requires both your heart and your head.
(i)See Stuart Ablon and Carl Marci, “Psychotherapy Process: The missing Link,” Psychogical Bulletin 130 (2004), pp. 664-668; Carlk Marci, “Physiologic Evidence for the Interpersonal Role of Laughter During Psychoterapy,” Journal of Nevous and Mental Disease 192 (2004), pp. 689-695