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Empathy and emotional intelligence
Prof. Annapoorni Balan Bookmark and Share

Introduction: Empathy should characterize all health care professions. Despite advancement in technology, the healing relationship between the patient and the health professional remains essential to a quality care (Larson, Yao 2005). Additionally, “Emotional intelligence” is a concept including perception, expression and control of emotions, self-control and empathy, communication, conflict resolution process, conscience, and perhaps many more. It became topical in 1998, when the «classic» book by Daniel Goleman "The emotional intelligence: Why EQ is more important than IQ" was published. Through the following pages the above concepts are discussed and their importance to effective communication is pointed out

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: What is it Really About?  

Empathy The origin of the word empathy dates back to the 1880s, when German psychologist Theodore Lipps coined the term “einfuhlung” (literally, “in-feeling”) to describe the emotional appreciation of another’s feelings. Empathy has further been described as the process of understanding a person’s subjective experience by vicariously sharing that experience while maintaining an observant stance. (Zinn W 1999) It seems that empathy plays an important role in a therapeutic relationship (Wiseman T 1996). Empathy means to recognize others’ feelings, the causes of these feelings, and to be able to participate in the emotional experience of an individual without becoming part of it (Keen S 2007). Gagan (1983) indicates that empathy is the ability to perceive one’s feelings on one hand, while transmitting them on the other. Empathy should characterise health care professionals and patients communication in order to achieve the desired healing results (Pembroke NF 2007).

There seems to be some confusion concerning the precise definition of “empathy”. Therefore, analyzing further this concept is considered necessary to clarify its meaning. Fairbairn (2002) describing the differences between sympathy (sympathy) and empathy (empathy) appointed to the first concept the ability to feel sympathy, and to empathy the ability to put one self into another’s shoes, as a sign of humanity. Sympathy is an emotional reaction, immediate and uncontrolled, which inundates when one person imagines himself in the position someone else is. That is why it can lead to suspension of care or alleviate ethical actions.

Empathy on the other hand, is a skill learned or an attitude of life, which can be used to try to come into contact with someone, to communicate and understand others’ experiences or feelings (Halpern J 2003). In addition, a person may be deemed to have more or less developed empathy and to have a tendency to use more this ability-depending on whether he feels responsible towards other persons (Ickes W 1997). Empathy can be expressed in terms of joy, sorrow, excitement, misery, pain and confusion. In health care, empathy enables health care professionals and patients to work together (Le Compte A 2000). It is often described as "the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes", which simply implies developing the ability to imagine what someone else is thinking and feeling in a given situation. This is an attempt to understand one another, to live and feel things in the same way. When empathy is developed and used, it is unlikely to know exactly what another person feels. However, it is important for health care personnel to try to imagine what another person is experiencing (Reynolds B 1994).

Communicating with others becomes more fruitful if some basic conditions are fulfilled, such as:

  • Emotional understanding: health care professionals understand the problem through the patient’s point of view
  • Respect: recognition and full acceptance of the patient as a person
  • Authenticity: honesty, real expression of views without hypocrisy
  • Warmth and unconditional positive recognition
  • Self exposure: health care professional reports personal experiences from his perspective
  • Resolution: health care professional’s ability to identify and name the patient's feelings.

At those various stages, many mental skills can be used such as searching and selecting patient’s qualifications, careful monitoring and hearing, using additional questions for gathering information to specify dark spots, small encouragements (head nod, simple words, cues, when watching the patient encourage him to continue speaking), directing patient to possible solutions and support his efforts to change. A recent study published in “Science” magazine revealed that the human beings are not exclusively the only organizations in nature having empathy. Researchers at McGill University in Canada put mice couples to look one another as one of the two animals received pain stimuli. They remarked with surprise, that there was a statistically significant behavioural change in pain even in the mouse-observer (Langford DJ et al 2006). Empathy is not the result of previous experience. It is the moment when «non-verbal» contact between people is occurring (Goldie P 2000). What is important is the degree of empathy assumed and caused (by stimulating us). Characteristics of empathy that affect learning Empathy and confidence are the basis on which any effective relationship, understanding and communication can be built. They are crucial in developing ideas and solutions, in problem solving, effective communication and avoiding or preventing conflicts. Empathy is an important capability, which all people must develop in order to progress and continue with their life (Pedersen R 2007). The ability to understand, to branch and to disconnect from your personal feelings (sense of objectivity), is particularly important in creating effective and constructive relations (Halpern J 2007).

Establishing confidence and association with other people are essential elements for developing scientific and professional discussions and disagreements. The establishment of confidence is associated with the ability to listen and understand another person, although this does not necessarily mean agreeing with him (Yegdich T 1999). A useful tactic, which people should develop, is carefully listen to one another, trying to understand how another person feels and what he wants to achieve (Boeree CG 1998). Teamwork should be focused on encouraging people to understand others’ requirements, to suggest ways of achieving their objectives and to cooperate together to solve problems. In this way, they will develop confidence for their partners.

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