You may be a champion of many things: your work, your passions, your family, your friends and yourself. But how can you champion each of these areas in your life more deeply? Empathy allows you to grow your connections with other people and is an important trait for funeral home leaders and for anyone else who is supporting someone who has lost a loved one.
What Is Empathy
Empathy is about understanding and sharing the feelings of others. You don’t have to have the same experience as another person to have empathy for them or their situation. Even if you’ve experienced a loss or a situation like theirs, everyone’s experience is different. To truly understand others, listening is key. Listen to their stories, listen to them express their feelings, listen to their needs. Ask them clarifying questions; be an active listener but allow silence and space for them to fill with their thoughts.
Part of empathy is being able to put yourself “in someone else’s shoes,” which can help you understand how to respond with kindness. Kindness can take many forms, but it always means being there for the person in the capacity they need. Kindness is also honesty. It may be necessary to draw boundaries with the ways you are able to provide empathy and kindness. In addition, empathy is important when conflict comes up, which we will go into detail later.
What Empathy Is Not
“It’s easy to show sympathy for your client families in their most challenging time. Showing empathy, however, means you demonstrate understanding of their challenges. Getting on their level and sharing that emotion helps your families feel heard, understood and comforted.”
Empathy is not just being “nice.” Niceness is often surface level, which can sometimes lead to not being fully honest or transparent to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Niceness skims the top of empathy, but kindness, as we discussed above, reaches into empathy with action and purpose. Read more about the difference between being nice and being kind.
The Role of Empathy for Funeral Professionals
We know that you have a lot of empathy towards your client families, often helping them at a moment’s notice in some of the most difficult days in their lives. Read more about how you can show appreciation to your client families through notes, aftercare support and empathy.
Empathy also has a role in creating a positive funeral home workplace. Giving feedback to your employees can be a tricky task, but it’s an important one. At the 2023 marketing conference INBOUND, authors Kim Scott and Dr. Tina Opie discussed “radical candor” and how using this “can provide a safe and supportive environment for honest conversations, empowering their teams to grow and thrive.” Radical candor includes the ability to be honest, clear and kind. Read more about how to use radical candor to help create a more open and collaborative environment for workplace teams.
In addition, you can practice empathy by connecting with your staff. A quick check-in in the morning or a more in-depth one-on-one every couple of weeks can allow you to ask questions to see how they’re feeling and what they need. You can also coordinate a yearly office outing or occasional events your staff can attend to lighten their spirits and bond with you and the team.
Another way to get to know your employees and how they operate in a work setting is through the StrengthsFinder. This assessment will tell you and them about their values and how they communicate and respond in various situations. Your whole team can use this information to effectively interact with each other, while retaining empathy for each other’s differences.
In addition to helping you better connect with colleagues, empathy can also serve you well when navigating stressful and emotionally charged situations with families who have just lost a loved one. Everyone experiences grief differently, and disagreements may occur. In those times, listening and making space for people to share their thoughts can help get everyone on the same page and moving toward more productive conversations.
The Role of Empathy in Supporting Someone Who is Grieving
When someone you care about has lost a loved one, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. You might feel at a loss for words. This blog post can help with knowing what to say when someone dies, including how to best provide the person you care about with what they need in their grief. When you attend a funeral, know how to best respect the person you’re there to support by following these funeral etiquette tips. If you’d like to send a thoughtful gift, here are meaningful alternatives to flowers.
Sometimes, you may live far away from a loved one who is grieving or you may not have a chance to see them in person right away. In this case, there are several text messages you can send to support them in their grief. It’s always important to give your loved one as much space and time to grieve as they need and listen to their stories, while offering help where you can.
What ways do you practice empathy in your life? What tips can you share for how we can all improve our empathy and kindness?