Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Principled Commitment: An Adult Program on Building Strong Relationships

Alternate Activity 2: Skills For Communicating Dignity - Empathy

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Review Leader Resource 2, Empathy Role-Play. Decide whether you will act out the role-play with your co-leader or recruit participant volunteers.

Description of Activity

Define and describe empathy so that participants operate from a shared understanding:

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines empathy as an "understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts, and motives of one are readily comprehended by another."

To empathize with others can be figuratively described as "walking in their shoes" or "crawling into their skin." It means seeing what a situation looks like and feels like from the other person's perspective.

Ask participants:

  • How do you show your partner empathy?
  • How can you know when your partner is empathizing with you?
  • What positive things can empathy do for a relationship?

As part of the discussion of the last question, you may wish to make the following points in your own words:

The ability to be empathetic builds more positive relationships. It can also defuse potentially negative situations. Partners with empathy deal more constructively with feelings of anger, fear, confusion, sadness, or hurt -their own or their partner's.

Introduce the skills-based portion of this activity with these or similar words:

When we listen empathetically, we listen for both content and feeling. The content is the message being communicated. The feeling is the emotion being experienced. For example, if your partner says "I'm fine," but she looks sad and her voice sounds sad, you might conclude that she's sad and treat her as such.

Invite participants to reflect on times when they have observed conflicting words and feelings. Ask participants:

  • What are some ways to "listen" for both the content and the feeling parts of the message?

Share with participants:

A helpful way to listen to both parts of the message involves asking yourself, "Given what I have heard and seen, what is my partner telling me? Why is this significant?" Then ask yourself, "How does that seem to make my partner feel?"

Remember, each person's reactions and responses are unique, even in similar situations. By thinking through these questions first, your response may be more empathetic than if you had blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

Use Leader Resource 2, Empathy Role-Play, to present a demonstration of listening with empathy. Co-leaders can play the two roles, or you can select volunteers from the group.

After the presentation, ask participants:

  • What did you notice?
  • How does it feel when someone responds to you in this way?

If time allows, ask participants to pair up with their partner and take turns practicing empathetic responses to concerns each partner is facing with work, children, or extended family relationships.