I recently discovered a new tool to disseminate empathy that’s called the Empathy Circle. On the heels of newest book, Heartificial Empathy, I was invited to participate in two such Empathy Circles, led by Edwin Rutsch, Director of the Culture of Empathy, who co-developed the concept with Lidewij Niezink. The idea of an Empathy Circle is to practice intense listening and to flex your empathic muscle using a structured dialogue process.

empathy circle

The two Empathy Circles I experienced showed them to be a powerful way to help spread empathy, one small group at a time. Essentially, with a curated selection of 3-5 people, each participant speaks in turn for up to 5 minutes, with one’s discourse directed at another individual whose sole role is to reflect back to you what you say. The reflecting person needs to reformulate without being parrot-like nor adding any flavour or judgment. At the end of your ‘talk,’ you recognise that “you feel heard” and it then becomes the turn of the reflecting person to speak to someone (else) for 5 minutes and so on. The whole event is articulated around a specific question. And, per Edwin’s experience, two hours is the optimal time frame. It’s true that it takes a certain amount of time to get into the flow of reflecting properly. What you inevitably realise is that reflecting listening is difficult.

Empathy Circle in Action

I’d really like to encourage you to check out an Empathy Circle in action. The last one I did, which you can check out via Edwin’s YouTube Channel here, was with two other wonderful authors who have also penned books with the word empathy in the title: Jackie Acho (Empathy Deficit Disorder: Healing from Our Mix-ups About Work, Home, and Sex) and Anita Nowak (The Empaths Strike Back). As a word of warning, there were a couple of technical issues with my connection.

You can find out more about the Empathy Circle on Edwin’s site, Culture of Empathy. Meanwhile, Edwin also invited me onto his show for a good long-form and rather personal interview. You can check that interview out here. And for good measure, here is Jackie Acho’s writeup of the experience on her blog.

Welcome your questions and/or thoughts!

Here is Jackie Acho’s writeup on her blog.

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