Are You Fluent in Feelings? Take the Empathy Quiz and Find Out

One Thai translation of empathy, a key soft power skill, is “taking the heart and wearing it,” giving a descriptive picture of stepping into the thoughts and emotions of others. This empathy intelligence quiz is step one in understanding yourself and others. 5 more practices can help you build your empathy powers.

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The Soft Power Skill of Empathy

What is empathy? One Thai language translation for empathy is การเอาใจใส่, (pronounced gan ao jai sai) which can translate literally into “Taking the heart and wearing it.” It’s an illuminating picture, because empathy involves projecting out of ourselves and into the emotions and thinking of others…being able to momentarily set aside our own self and world view, and see things from another’s perspective. As the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau rhetorically wondered, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Empathy, in Thai translation, can be interpreted as “Taking the Heart and Wearing It.” Image Source

Benefits of Empathy

Empathy is a key soft power skill, because it allows us to understand and anticipate the actions of others—when we’ve deeply considered another’s perspective, we won’t be surprised by their behavior. It also allows us to interact appropriately with others—when we distinguish between other people’s feelings of concern, or sadness, or anger, or fear, we’ll be less inclined to overreact, or misinterpret. And finally, being empathetic simply makes us more likeable, approachable, and attractive as leaders and comrades. In a business context, empathy is essential for good leadership, for being able to ask the right questions of others, for enhancing teamwork, and for effectively interacting with customers.

Is Empathy Skill Learn-able?

If empathy is so important, can we do something to get better at it? We learn empathetic behavior from early childhood, while some studies indicate there is a genetic component to empathetic behavior as well. As we gather emotional and intellectual life experiences, we develop what psychologists call a “theory of mind,” or the ability to see into the mind of others. We learn to set aside our own feelings and thoughts, to infer the mental and emotional states of others, and to react with our own appropriate emotions. But we are imperfect beings, and stepping out of our comfortable selves and into the shoes of others is easier said than done. The concept of an “emotional quotient,” or EQ, was introduced in 1990 to complement the embattled, alleged measurement of intellect known as IQ. Since then, around 3,000 scientific articles have been published regarding EQ, according to a Harvard Business Review article. From these numerous studies, it appears that our emotional quotient is not set in stone after we reach adulthood—but it’s set in pretty hard clay that takes a lot of effort to remold.

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Fortunately, our emotional intelligence, which includes our ability to empathize, is not set in stone.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

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Know Thyself.

Step one is to understand your current ability to empathize. Below, I have gathered  pictures and videos that test your ability to understand another person’s emotions. Try your hand at guessing people’s emotions via their facial expressions, their eyes (the most important body organ for being able to capture and wear the heart of another), and their body language. If you are unsure of the intended meaning of the words in the multiple choices, scroll down to the word table at the bottom of the quiz, and simply hover over the word for its definition in the context of the quiz.

Sources for test: Greater Good Magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge. Downloadable Tests.

 

 

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

This face is expressing...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

These eyes are expressing someone who is...

At the end of the scene, how is the woman feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the woman feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the woman feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the man feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the woman feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the man feeling?

At the end of the scene, how is the woman feeling?

Emotions Word List
Afraid Aghast Alarmed Amused
Anger Annoyed Appealing Arrogant
Ashamed Awkward Bitter Bored
Bothered Brooding Comforting Contempt
Convinced Desire Determined Disgusted
Disliking Embarrassment Excitement Fantasizing
Fear Flirtatious Flustered Friendly
Happiness Hateful Hesitant Hurt
Impatient Insisting Interested Intimate
Irritated Jealous Joking Love
Mean Nervous Pain Panicked
Playful Politeness Pride Relaxed
Remote Resentful Sadness Sarcastic
Shame Smug Sneaky Surprise
Terrified Unsure Upset Worried

Besides the Reading the Emotions test, we can get objective feedback from peers, bosses, and people who work for us (if we are in a leadership position). We humans tend to overestimate our own abilities, especially our ability to empathize with others. Ask others how nice and how good at listening you really are…and listen carefully to their answers!

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Buddy Up! Use a coach to observe and assist. The best coaches often use a technique that falls under Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. In very simple terms, this method first establishes a baseline of critical behaviors that need to be changed, by either increasing the behavior (such as empathetic listening, clear communications, etc.) or decreasing the behavior (such as inappropriately demonstrating anger, or being apathetic to people’s emotions). Then, one practices controlling thoughts and feelings to bring about the desired change through various strategies, such as using imagery, motivational self-talk, and goal setting.

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It’s Elementary, Watson. Improve your powers of observation. If you’ve ever read or watched the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you’ve seen how Sherlock constantly hones his observation skills. Practice observing conversations and social interactions, noticing the smallest details in body language and tone of voice. Scientific studies have shown that 58% of the meaning conveyed in human interaction is in the body language, and only 7% in the actual words uttered. You can also practice your powers of reading emotions on other websites—here’s a quite challenging one at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center.

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Check Out Chekhov. A study published in the journal Science in 2013 found that subjects reading character-driven literary fiction (not plot-driven pop fiction, or non-fiction) performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, such as the “reading the eyes” test. Immerse yourself in some good literature that develops its characters fully to exercise your imagination and empathetic powers. 

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Don’t Be a Wallflower. Overcome fear of speaking with others. On public transportation, in a restaurant, waiting in line at the grocery, etc., strike up conversations with other people and express your curiosity about them. Get beyond small talk and find out how they feel about things and why.

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Be a Mind and Soul Mirror. Practice empathetic listening (also known as reflective listening). Empathetic listening is habit number 5 of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people—Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Empathetic listening involves the eyes, the ears, and the heart—watching body language, listening for tone of voice as well as the words, and trying to understand the feelings behind the words being said. Listen sincerely to understand, not just to reply. Reflective listening is not just repeating back what others say like a tape recorder; it captures the emotion behind their words and confirms understanding of the meaning and emotion. An appropriate (generalized) response after a partner has finished speaking  might be “I understand that [event, situation, problem], and that must make you feel [associated feeling]. Am I understanding correctly?”

Empathy has gotten a lot of airplay in recent times. The challenge of the electronic age, with more relationships conducted over a digital distance, has produced an even greater need for working on the skills of capturing and wearing the hearts of others. American author Daniel H. Pink, has observed, “Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.” As Pink notes, empathy as a soft power skill gives us an advantage in the increasingly automated world, as machines are unlikely to be able to wear the human heart. Though our natural tendencies are to center on our own thoughts and feelings, developing empathy powers makes our lives easier and more effective. Try the 6 practices above, and improve your fluency in feelings.

Copyright © 2017 by Robert Cummings All rights reserved.

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