First published at http://www.wsj.com

Author: ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN

I had a tough day recently.

The computer crashed, the water bill was sky-high, and I got stuck in traffic, making me an hour late for dinner with my parents.

Outside the restaurant, the parking meter spit out my credit cards, stating “unable to read card.”

I had no cash—and very little emotional reserve left.

Suddenly, I felt a hand patting my arm, and a woman asked: “Can I help?”

She smiled and tried to get the machine to work. When it still malfunctioned, she steered me toward another across the street. “I know this is frustrating,” she said. “If this one doesn’t work, I have cash.

”Why are some people so much better at expressing empathy than others?

Psychologists define empathy as sensitivity to the emotions, both positive and negative, of other people.

You can feel empathic—or empathetic (the two words are used interchangeably)—to someone who is feeling positive feelings, such as amusement or joy, in addition to someone who is feeling sadness or anger.

“Empathy is being in the heart of another person,” says Susan Kuczmarski, a cultural anthropologist and adjunct faculty member in the executive education program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Researchers have determined that people react in one of two ways when faced with another person’s emotions. Sometimes people respond with “empathic concern” or caregiving. They see themselves as a source of comfort or support for the other person.But sometimes people feel threatened by the other person’s emotions and focus instead on themselves. They might try to help, to minimize their own discomfort. Typically they distance themselves. Psychologists call this response “empathic distress.”

Read all: Why You Should Have More Empathy – WSJ

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