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What is Empathy?

What words or phrases come to mind when you hear the word ‘empathy?


Empathy is a powerful tool of compassion. It is an emotional skillset that allows us to understand what someone else is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding.

You may sometimes see empathy described as ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ so you can better understand their perspective. Brene Brown (Research Professor, Author and Public Speaker who specialises in shame, courage, vulnerability and empathy) has an alternative view to describe empathy…

“It’s not walking in someone else’s shoes. It’s learning how to listen to the story someone else tells you about what it’s like in their shoes and believe them, even when it doesn’t match your experiences.”

Brene Brown

Watch the short animation below which simply explains empathy


Empathy allows you to understand and respect the experiences, feelings or perspective of another person. It also allows you to understand and respect your own experiences, feelings and perspectives so you can be compassionate towards yourself.

This is why empathy plays a vital role in boundary setting. It allows us to consider the needs of others, and respect their boundaries (even if we don’t quite understand them ourselves), and also to recognise our own boundaries, when they are crossed and be empathetic to why someone may not be respecting them.

Empathy can also help us to communicate our boundaries in a way that prevents conflict. Rather than the situation feeling like ‘you’ versus ‘them’, it helps establish a more objective view with a focus on finding a solution to a problem where each of you have different but equally valid perspectives.

Read this article with 5 exercises to build more empathy –