Five ways to practice empathy during a crisis.
Updated: May 16
There’s no question the global pandemic has wrought havoc on our daily lives. Its never-before-seen levels of uncertainty, overnight change and sweeping disruption have been overwhelming for everyone—to say the least. Worse, this crisis may also have led to crippling stress and anxiety for some, including our workmates.
Practicing empathy is not a new topic, but in moments of crisis like we’re experiencing, the need to do so soars not only for others but for ourselves as well. As a leader, a coworker, a friend, here are five ways to cultivate and show empathy—even if it’s a skill that doesn’t come naturally to you.
Check in frequently to show you care.
Maintaining physical distance from others to prevent the spread of the virus doesn’t mean we need to be emotionally distant, too. In fact, we should be showing how much we care now more than ever. And we can do so easily by regularly checking in with the people in our lives to ask how they’re doing.
Showing empathy in such a simple way can make a huge impact by helping to address feelings of isolation and disconnection for both ourselves and others.
Listen intently and acknowledge what you hear.
Whatever the cause of a crisis, the uncertainty it brings can lead to an overwhelming amount of negative emotions. And while everyone copes with the subsequent anxiety and stress of those emotions differently, we all just want to feel seen and heard.
When we check in, we ‘see’ others. Practice empathy by hearing them, too. Ask open-ended questions that give people permission to share how they feel, be fully present/truly listen when they respond and then validate their feelings.
Consider and be considerate of others' reality.
Reflect on ways the pandemic has affected your life. Are you working from home while also home schooling your children? Are you trying to care for elderly parents remotely? Do you have a spouse who lost their job? Now think about how others might answer those same questions.
It’s easy to criticize others or jump to conclusions when we’re unaware. Instead, practice empathy by making an effort to understand how their personal situation and experiences may be impacting their choices and behavior.
Be patient and forgive the typo.
We’re all managing through a massive, cognitive overload right now as we adapt to new ways of living, working and being. Undoubtedly, that means we’re going to drop the ball, miss a deadline, forget to cc someone or make any of a plethora of other mistakes. It’s inevitable.
Instead of getting upset in these moments—whether we’re in a crisis or not—show empathy by remembering to treat yourself and others with patience and forgiveness. We’re all human.
Cut yourself (and others) some slack…like, a lot.
In the midst of a crisis, you may feel like everything is out of control, and, honestly, it may well be. Maybe nothing is getting crossed off your to-do list. And the dog won’t stop barking during your call. And you keep losing your connection. And your home office is a disaster…and, and, and.
Practice empathy in these moments by being compassionate toward yourself and others. It’s ok to be messy. It’s ok to be imperfect. You’re not alone in this experience.