Emotional empathy is the ability to recognise and share the feelings of another person, and so to understand that person on a deeper level.
It’s sometimes called “affective empathy” because it affects or changes you. It’s not just a matter of knowing how someone feels, but of feeling it with them. Neurological research suggests that when emotional empathy is functioning, similar areas of the brain activate, to that of the person you are observing. For example seeing someone in pain through stubbing their toe on the corner of the door may activate the same pain pathways in your brain as if you actually had that accident yourself and you may wince.This type of mirroring response has also been identified with regards to our emotional systems. For instance, the contagious effect of feeling more uplifted when you see others in a good mood and smiling, or feeling anxious when you see others fearful.
Being sensitive to how someone else feels is also incredibly important in building trust and a sense of safety in relationships. Identifying when someone is emotionally struggling, stressed or overwhelmed can act as an early warning system. It aids pre-emptively addressing issues with individuals or teams and thereby is an important tool for managing team and company morale, staff retention and to a larger degree, disputes. Recognising others emotions also acts like a barometer in understanding if their needs are being met.
It is our ability to empathise with other peoples emotions, that enable us to begin to consider how they might be feeling about a situation. Successful managers and employees recognise and thoughtfully consider others feelings along with other factors in the process of making intelligent decisions.