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The Different Forms of Empathy and When to Use Them

When it comes to developing meaningful relationships, understanding and connecting with other people are essential. That’s why we use empathy to understand and share another person's feelings, and it’s a powerful tool for creating solid connections and navigating through difficult conversations.

However empathy can come in different forms, but the three foundational forms are emotional, cognitive, and compassionate. It’s essential to understand which form of empathy is most appropriate in different situations and when it’s the right time to use each form of empathy.


Cognitive empathy has to do with understanding how a person feels or how their circumstances. It’s about having the emotional intellect to connect with them and “get inside their head.” This form of empathy is perfect when you are trying to negotiate with someone or trying to understand a more diverse point of view. It’s beneficial in situations like business meetings. However, this form of empathy is not good if you’re trying to connect with someone on a deeper emotional level.


Emotional empathy is where we start to get into how other people feel, whether emotional or even physical sensations. It allows us to mirror their emotions or feel sympathy to understand what they’re experiencing. This type of empathy works best when someone needs the emotional support or requires validation that their emotions are valid and understandable. Sympathy can also help build trust by showing the other person you are on their side and willing to listen.

This particular form of empathy is used when you’re trying to develop a closer interpersonal relationship or in a career that requires you to understand how another person feels when they experience something like marketing or even management. However, be careful when you apply this because it can sometimes be overwhelming for people in the wrong situation.


Compassion is an active form of empathy where you take action in response to someone’s suffering. It’s a fusion of emotional and cognitive empathy that brings the whole person into consideration. Compassion suggests feeling for another person and doing something to help them. Compassion can build trust by showing a willingness to go out of your way to help them.

Beyond these three forms, many other forms of empathy delve deeper into how we can connect to people on a deeper level. This includes affective empathy, somatic empathy, evaluative empathy, and perceptual empathy. All these forms of empathy require you to be honest, vulnerable, and as authentic as you can.

At its core, empathy is about understanding and connecting with others. It looks different in various situations, so it’s essential to use empathy at the right time. Once we recognize this distinction between emotional, cognitive, compassionate, and every other form in between, we can use them both to create meaningful relationships and make a positive impact on the lives of others.


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