Research Paper By Mutriba Karimova
(Executive Coach, CHINA)
The reason I want to do my research paper on empathy and the role it plays in the coaching relationship stems from my belief that it is one of the essential elements responsible for the success and effectiveness of any human communication and therefore any kind of relationship.
My desire to research this subject also comes from the understanding that it is absolutely fundamental and important for a person to be heard, to be understood and to be seen. However to be heard, understood and seen in an empathic manner.
Empathy, the context this paper is considering it, is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts and attitudes without passing any judgment. Empathy does not mean agreement but the desire to enter the world of the other and see it the way he/she sees it and experience it the way he/she experiences it without attaching any evaluation to it.
Empathy is very easy to talk about but it is very hard to achieve. Why is it so hard for us to be empathic in our relationships with others? Carl Roggers, the developer of client-centered therapy proposes the following hypothesis for consideration:
The major barriers for mutual interpersonal communication are:
- our very natural tendency to judge
- to evaluate
- to approve ( or disapprove) the statement of the other person or group
Mainly it appears to us that we understand the other person and that we hear what he/she is saying, however we rarely question if what we hear and sense of the other person’s world is correct. We rarely double check if we are seeing it the same way as the person is experiencing it. A big part of the empathic attitude is a reflective listening. Carl Rogers said the following about reflective listening
I am trying to determine whether my understanding of the client’s inner world is correct whether I am seeing it as s/he is experiencing it at this moment. Each response of mine contains the unspoken question, “ is this the way it is in you? Am I catching just the color and texture and flavor of personal meaning you are experiencing right now? If not, I wish to bring my perception in line with yours. ( C. Rogers, 1961)
Empathy or empathic understanding is one of the major constituents in the relationship that Carl Rogers utilized in his practice with clients. There is solid research indicating that this kind of relationship brought constructive personality changes in his clients. He believed that this sort of relationship can not only be used between therapist and the troubled individual but in any human relationship including therapist and the growing number of so called “normal individuals” who want to improve their functioning and personal growth.
When this kind of relationship is created, the person involved in it becomes more self-directed, self-disciplined, less anxious and more original (C. Rogers, 1961)
In his book, “ On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers mentions Heine ‘s studies on individuals who went for various types of therapy. This study focused on client’s perception of the relationship with a therapist/counselor. When asked what accounted for the changes, the clients gave different feedback as to the approach of the therapist however they all agreed on the major and significant element created in the relationship being attitudinal element.
They (clients) indicated that these attitudinal elements in the relationship accounted for the changes which had taken place in themselves: the trust they had felt in the therapist, being understood by the therapist, the feelings of independence they had had in making choices and decisions. (C.Rogers, 1961)
As coaches we regard our clients to be experts but we access their “expertise” when an empathic space is created. The client should feel accepted, understood and seen in this space because it allows him/her move into a more open and vulnerable state. Thus, empathy is an essential attribute to be cultivated by a coach, counselor, and therapist. However if every person made an attempt to practice this attitude in their relationships – so many people would be heard, understood, seen and would feel accepted, the world would not be plunged into such a sea of misunderstanding and pain of not being seen.
I have always been concerned with the questions that I ask my clients or for those awkward moments when I find myself stuck not knowing what to say or what to ask. Consequently, it moves my focus from client’s world into mine leaving the client in his/her realm while I am dealing with mine. It is when I intentionally desire to be there for my client, enter his or her world without any judgment, a true connection takes place and the client’s attitude changes to be more open and sincere. This very observation has made me look into the attitudinal element of the coaching relationship and has enabled me to realize its importance
When we desire to enter someone’s else’s world completely and empathically, we are able to understand his/her point of reference and grasp the meaning he/she attaches to his/her statements. When we talk to a person having low self-esteem or someone feeling stuck or somebody lacking trust in his /her judgments, we understand and sense the feelings of these individuals. Our desire to understand and empathize makes them feel understood and accepted which in turn permits them to accept themselves. Self-acceptance takes places when their feelings, perceptions, ideas “make sense” and are perceived as “acceptable” to others. They may think their assumptions or thoughts are weird, unacceptable and because of that they are not heard or seen so often. It is when their feelings of distress, discouragement, disappointment are understood and their experiences of positive as well as negative sensations are felt, they feel accepted and therefore they are able to accept and validate those wonderful or not so wonderful feelings/thoughts within themselves. When they are able to validate and accept those feelings and perceptions within themselves, a change takes place. I believe self-acceptance is the beginning of one’s personal change and transformation.
I believe that we all emphasize in varying degrees. Our empathy can be manifested in showing understanding, a loving attitude, displaying small acts of kindness, which leave us somehow happy and fulfilled. According to the researcher Ben Sahar, doing small acts of kindness leads to good feelings lasting much longer throughout the day than when we only act with our ego. This is more proof that others happiness and well-being plays an intimate role with our own happiness and well-being – a product of empathy.
Shame and vulnerability researcher, Dr. Brene Brown looks into the destructive nature of shame and healing power of empathy. She asserts that empathy and shame are on opposite ends of a continuum.