The capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference.

Overall, Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position. Definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include...

Cognitive Empathy: simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Eg, a doctor can look at a sick patient and try to understand the parts of the illness rather than dive into the patient’s emotions—cognitive empathy responds to a problem with brainpower.

Emotional (affective) Empathy: when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. Eg, when your partner—or anyone you deeply love—comes to you in tears, it’s a natural response to feel that pull on your heartstrings. Like crying at a wedding or cringing when someone stubs their toe, it’s a deep-seated, gut reaction that often feels like a visceral human response. Connecting with another human in this way is intimate and can form a strong bond.

Compassionate Empathy: With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help (action), if needed. Most of the time, Compassionate Empathy is the ideal. Cognitive Empathy may be fitting for political or monetary negotiations or surgeon’s offices; Emotional Empathy may be the first response in children and for our loved ones; Compassionate Empathy strikes a powerful balance of the two. Eg, When your loved one comes to you in tears, you want to understand why she is upset and you also want to provide comfort by sharing in her emotional experience and hopefully helping her heal.

In order to measure your empathy awareness, Talection have developed a skill test indicating your level of empathy; low (1-4), medium (4-6) and high (7-9).

Type of EmpathyLevel High
CognitiveIntellectual, analytical, thoughtful, detached, cold, negotiator, ideation, tactics, perspective, fantasy (identify fictional characters).
AffectiveFeelings, mirroring, “in someone shoes”, “sorrow and care”, tenderness, sympathy, overwhelming, watch up for ”burn-out”, good at: interpersonal relations, coaching, marketing, HR.
CompassionateBalanced human interaction, feelings and thinking at the same time, empathic, seeing the whole person, helpful, sensitive, warmth and care, altruism, passion about people.

Take a Big 5 personality test and find out more about your empathy skills. According to 3 different studies (US, China, Canada), Agreeableness seems to have a strong positive association with affective empathy (β = 0.477, P<0.01), and a moderate association with cognitive empathy (β = 0.349, P<0.01). Neuroticism was strongly associated with compassion (β = 0.526, P<0.01) and modestly associated with cognitive empathy (β = 0.149, P<0.01). Openness to experience had modest associations with cognitive empathy (β = 0.150, P<0.01) and compassion (β = -0.160, P<0.01). Conscientiousness had a modest association with cognitive empathy (β = 0.173, P<0.01). Based on these studies, big five personality traits were important predictors of self-reported measures.

An another study explores the relationships between an index of empathy and the Big-Five personality model in a sample of 832 Spanish adolescents. As expected, results show that empathy correlates strongly with Friendliness (Agreeableness). Positive correlations with Conscientiousness, Energy, and Openness traits have also been observed, but regression analyses show that relationships of empathy with those three factors were of negligible importance. Contrary to expectations, empathy did not correlate with Emotional stability (Neuroticism).

Empathy is highly related to Agreeableness. In fact, if you look at personality questionnaires, the agreeableness scales are likely to tap into empathy:

  1. For example, the NEO agreeableness subscale of the International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) includes items such as: "[I] Am concerned about others." or "[I] Sympathize with others' feelings." which are essentially items measuring empathic concern.
  2. The NEO-PI-R (Costa & Macrae, 1992) is one of the most widely used Big Five questionnaires (with 240 items it's a pretty large and comprehensive one). It describes agreeableness as "the kinds of interactions an individual prefers from compassion to tough mindedness." It has two sub-scales that are related to empathy: Altruism ("active concern for the welfare of others") and Tender-Mindedness ("attitude of sympathy for others.").

This makes clear that from the perspective of the Big Five, empathy may be regarded as an element of agreeableness. what are your scores: Agreeableness and the facets: Tender-mindedness and Altruism?

Want to learn more about empathy?

Want to improve your empathy?
To improve your empathy skills, you need to understand "The Playground" of emotions:

The person you want to relate to, is she/he sad, mad, joyful, powerful, scared or peaceful? Furthermore, is he/she scared, rejected, confused, anxious, embarrassed? Use your emotional intelligence (self-awareness) to find out more about a person`s emotional situation. To understand the person feelings, ask why in order to increase your social awareness (feelings of others). Self-management means to bring self-awareness and social awareness together, an important part of Emotional Intelligence and important for people to take responsibility of their own personal development.

Empathy is close related to feelings and is an important part of Emotional Intelligence. Do you want to learn more about EI, please read the book by Daniel Goleman.

Empathy is one out of 5 most important skills for the future: Curiosity, Assertiveness, Grit, Empathy, Sense of Urgency – CAGES.

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