Someone around you is visibly upset.
They don’t look outright upset, but you can sense it somehow. They don’t share much or talk about what’s bothering them, but there’s a shadow around them that tells you something is definitely up. You want to help, talk to them, or somehow try to make them feel okay. But you don’t know how.
Does this sound familiar?
We, as humans, often struggle to understand things from other people’s perspectives. It could be a colleague, friend, or family member – despite having multiple conversations, their point of view somehow refuses to make sense to you.
This is a downright frustrating experience as it severely limits your ability to connect with a person in a meaningful way or help them in difficult situations.
This is exactly where cognitive empathy comes in.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand and comprehend other people’s emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and overall perceptions. It is one of the critical factors of solid relationships and governs almost all our social interactions and communications.
On that note, let us dive deeper into cognitive empathy and discuss effective and practical ways to work on developing it.
What Is Cognitive Empathy?
Also known as perspective-taking or emotional accuracy, cognitive empathy is the ability to understand and comprehend other people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs without necessarily feeling them yourself. The process involves putting aside your personal judgments, biases, and stereotypes and seeing the world from the other person’s perspective.
People who are well-equipped with cognitive empathy are able to properly understand social cues, anticipate the needs and wants of people, build better social relationships, and adapt easily to the different communication styles as per the need of the situation.
How Is Cognitive Empathy Different From Emotional Empathy?
Emotional empathy or affective empathy is the human ability to share people’s feelings and emotions. Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to understand people’s emotions without feeling them yourself.
Therefore as an emotional empath, when you see someone in pain or anxious, you feel anxious and hurt yourself. However, as a cognitive empath, you try to understand the other person’s situation, rationalize why they must be anxious, and understand how this affects their behavior.
Emotional empathy, though important, is extremely draining and overwhelming at times.
Cognitive empathy is more pragmatic as it allows you to dissociate from and observe others’ situations. This way, you can better help other people, all the while maintaining your personal well-being as well.
How To Develop Cognitive Empathy?
While emotional empathy comes naturally to most humans, developing cognitive empathy is rather complex. Here are some steps that can get you started with the process of developing cognitive empathy.
1. Listen and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
While talking to a person, try to listen to what they are saying properly. Hearing and listening are two different actions often used interchangeably. Hearing is simply the process of perceiving sound signals, whereas listening is the ability to comprehend those sound signals.
Therefore, whenever you are talking to someone, listen. Do not pretend to listen but actually listen and try to pay attention to the things they say and do not say. Be aware of non-verbal cues like body language, eye-contacts, and facial expressions in between conversations. All this will help you understand a lot more about what the concerned person is actually trying to say.
2. Ask questions rather than making assumptions or having preconceived notions.
Whenever you are in doubt about how the other person is feeling at the moment, ask. Encourage people to share their thoughts and opinions and actively provide them with a safe space to do so. The more you ask, the more you understand. The more you understand things, the greater your learning about cognitive empathy is.
3. Separate your bias while looking at other people.
Cognitive bias is a significant and overpowering barrier to developing cognitive empathy. Cognitive bias is the tendency to look at and perceive different things according to one’s preconceived notions and perspectives. Therefore, in order to develop cognitive empathy, you need to actively choose to dissociate from this bias and then try to understand people. Seek out different perspectives through diverse literature, films, and cultures. This will help you unlearn your cognitive biases and be more objective.
Read more: Empaths Meaning – Who Is A True Empath?
Cognitive empathy is an important part of emotional intelligence that helps us understand, accept, and comprehend the thoughts, beliefs, and emotions of others. It is important to build better relationships and become a good communicator.
At the very heart of cognitive empathy lies a heightened awareness and predictive power. If you use cognitive empathy well, it helps you better anticipate how people are going to react in different situations. Now, this won’t make you a perfect predictor. See, people are complex and extremely difficult to understand. But in the longer run, cognitive empathy will pay off pretty well.
Think of some things that are extremely easy in theory but super tough in practice. Meditation – just focus on your breathing. Stock markets – buy small, sell big. Cognitive empathy is just one of those things. It is a complex process to develop it. But if it were so easy, the world would already be a much better place. However, everything gets easier with practice. We hope these steps will help you start the process.
Empathy can often be draining. It can be super exhausting and cause you immense emotional stress, commonly known as empathy fatigue. To learn more about empathy fatigue, click here.
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