How to Inspire Empathy by Cloning One's Posture
Before I describe the posture cloning method, let's review the definition of empathy, so we know what we want to achieve.
According to Psychology Today, "empathy is the visceral experience of another person's thoughts and feelings from his or her point of view, rather than from one's own." 1
That means we begin to have empathy for someone when we understand their point of view. We do that by listening in a way that we can understand the meaning behind their thoughts and experience their feelings.
How to Experience What Someone Else Is Feeling
Getting in touch with the thoughts and feelings of others may be difficult if we don't feel their emotions. We end up having no empathy because we're missing what's going on for them, and we can't appreciate where they are "coming from" with what they do or say?
Empathy is easier to achieve when we can experience the feelings and emotions of another person. A point made clear from the definition of empathy above is that we need to eliminate our personal point of view.
A useful method is to pay attention to body language and simulate that. We do that by cloning one's posture.
Clone One's Posture to Experience Their Thoughts and Feelings
When you use this method with someone, you'll suddenly have more compassion for them and understand their feelings.
To fully understand what's going on for another person and feel empathy, you need to grasp their emotions as you listen to them talk.
Their feelings and emotions can be detected and felt with startling realism. Hold yourself in the same position as theirs. For example:
- Try making the same facial expression.
- Hold your shoulders the same.
- Position your arms and legs the same as theirs.
- Lean similarly to how they are leaning.
What I mean by this is to clone everything about their posture accurately. That includes carrying out their mannerisms. When you do all this, you'll find that you can actually experience their mood, temper, and frame of mind. You will feel all this yourself, and you will understand where they are coming from a lot better.
You need to pay attention to their facial expression. Try to imitate it. You'll immediately feel something different, possibly in line with what they are feeling.
The shoulders tend to hold a lot of stress. So notice how they are holding their shoulders and immediate that.
If they are slouching, then do the same. Lean in or out similarly to how they are leaning. All this will reproduce the feeling of their stress level in your own mind.
I think this works well because it puts you in the same physical state as theirs. So you'd be doing it in reverse—rather than having the same stimuli affecting you, you're merely putting your body in the same mold, and therefore can feel the same feelings.
Inspire Empathy by Seeing Things From Their Perspective
We can learn much more by watching how the other person is holding their body and movements they make. That's a form of physical communication where one's gestures are observed.
If they tend to face away, or turn their entire body facing sideways, they may have a feeling of flight—the desire the get away from a situation.
Their hands tell a lot too. Whatever is going on in their thoughts may be physically communicated through the way they hold or move their hands. If they are angry, they may be holding their hands tightly in a clenched fist. Cupping or holding the hands can indicate that they are confused and trying hard to understand. Covering the mouth could mean one is lying or merely not sure of themselves.
If they are relaxed, they may just let their hands hang on their sides or in their pockets. Pocketed hands are a meaningless position, however. Many men do that just because it's a comfortable way to stand.
Examples of Expressing Empathy
There is nothing more gratifying than having someone genuinely understand the meaning of what one is saying.
With many social interactions, we often tend to know very little about one another. We miss out on the innermost feelings one may have.
When we have a conversation with someone, we can usually be sure that their words are carefully selected to filter their emotions and feelings. Effective communication requires understanding the true meaning of what someone is saying and grasping the feelings behind it.
Paying attention to physical communication and cloning the other person's posture creates the ability to do that, and it gives us the ability to express empathy.
Examples of Physical Communication
Meaning That Can Be Noticed
Despite cultural differences, hands can illustrate thoughts (see table below).
Despite upbringing and gender differences, leg positions can indicate comfort, disinterest or insecurity.
Non-verbal Communication Through the Hands
Hands in Pockets
Show Compassion With Active Listening Skills
There is one final thought dealing with understanding another person, and that depends on how we react while we are the listener.
When we are in a conversation, and the other person is talking, are we really listening? Or are we reacting?
So that we can really know what the other person is all about, we need to know what is going on for us as well. We need to realize how we react to the thoughts and feelings that they are expressing.
To explain what I mean, think back to a time when you had a strong feeling about something that someone was telling you. How were you reacting?
- Were you reacting to his or her feelings?
- Or were you reacting to your feelings about the subject?
We may respond to things based on our own feelings. If we genuinely want to understand, we have to put a considerable effort into understanding by viewing the world from their perspective and observing their body language.
Then we need to include one important thing. We need to confirm what we understood. We can do this by rephrasing what we heard and saying it back to them. Then get a confirmation that we "got it." That will validate our desire to understand what is being said. It will show that their feelings are important to us.
Psychologist Carl Rogers described the process of “active listening,” whereby the listener explains what they heard until there is a mutual agreement between the listener and the speaker.2
If you are not sure you understood something, just ask. If you are not getting it, say so.
He or she should be pleased that you are trying to understand better. If they really want to be understood, then they should not be intimidated by your extra effort. You will be creating the opportunity to communicate better and with the least amount of misunderstanding.
We can make a worthy attempt at getting closer to the correct meaning of what the other person is trying to tell us by keeping in mind how we are reacting to the situation.
Experiencing their feelings by physically positioning ourselves similarly to their posture will help us understand them on a deeper level.
I find these methods to be a useful trick with understanding someone well. Try what I explained someday. It may open a whole new world of understanding people.
They'll consider you to be more respectful, and they will appreciate you for the effort.
- Empathy | Psychology Today
- Carl R Rogers (1957), Active Listening, (ASIN: B0007FAIPA), Industrial Relations Center, The University of Chicago
© 2009 Glenn Stok