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Jonathan Silvestri
Jonathan Silvestri

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Cognitive Empathy: Walking in Their Shoes

Have you ever wondered what a situation looks like from another participant's perspective? Perhaps you have found yourself asking yourself what another person is going through and trying to understand how they're feeling in that moment. This is Cognitive Empathy, or our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.

Cognitive Empathy is the base block of your empathetic building blocks. In the end, instead of thinking about how we would like to be treated in a given situation, we need to think about how the other person would like to be treated in a given situation. This form of empathy is one of the ways we can achieve doing this.

Cognitive Empathy can also be viewed as "perspective taking," or taking a walk in another person's shoes. Let's take a look at a work example to understand what this means:

"A colleague is sad because the project they were leading had been de-prioritized for other work. You knew that the project did not have very well defined specifications and had a high chance for failure, so you don't understand at first why your colleague is sad!

But then you stop and ask yourself what your colleague is thinking right now. You realize that despite the high risk for failure, this project was a great way for them to display their professional growth regardless of the outcome. In fact, it's possible that any successes would have provided even stronger justifications for how much they have grown and how capable they are. You now understand that, regardless of the stress relief that comes from the project being de-prioritized, your colleague feels sad because they won't get this opportunity to prove themselves in a challenging situation."

Cognitive Empathy is a not easy to utilize, and takes a lot of practice. You need to practice removing your biases and opinions from the situation, which gets harder the closer we are to the other person. It can also feel like the perspective taking is more akin to mind reading, which leads to misses on your part or a desire to pin down a person's mind set perfectly.

Instead, I invite you to consider that, rather than trying to read someone's mind, you instead try to feel the way that person is feeling after you understand what they are feeling. This is Emotional Empathy, which we will discuss in my next post.

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