Module 3: Developing Your Intercultural Skills

Understanding Empathy in Context

After completing the previous activities, you should have a better understanding of the difference between empathy and sympathy, as well as some ideas to develop your cultural empathy skills. Once you start practising empathy with others around you, whether from your same or a different cultural group, you will start noticing it more in different contexts, as you will explore next.
Friends Sitting at a Park

Activity: Understanding Others Through Various Lenses

To help you expand your understanding within a personal journey, watch the TED talk We’re Experiencing an Empathy Shortage, But We Can Fix It Together  (13’18”) where Jamil Zaki shares his experience developing empathy, providing examples of its use and placing it within a greater context.

After watching the video, read the following statements and decide whether they are true or false based on what Jamil Zaki discussed:

From the activity above, you can infer ways in which skills associated with intercultural development are interrelated and complement each other. For example, in order to be a better listener, you need to also learn to be a good observer; if you want to gain an understanding of other people’s life perspectives, you need to exercise critical thinking; and in order to appreciate other people’s histories, struggles, and experiences, you need to develop empathy. By being intentional about developing intercultural skills, you will create opportunities to expand those skills and support people with whom you interact. Remember that all of these skills are transferable across all contexts of interactions.

Takeaway points

  • It is important to remember that cultural empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with the person’s perspective; you may not support their views, but you understand “where they’re coming from.”
  • Practising empathy does not make you a weaker person, it makes you stronger because you are able to connect with and understand other people, many of whom are from a different cultural group.
  • Empathy can have a positive effect on society because it encourages considering other perspectives and it also has benefits for our own mental health, our relationships, and can even improve performance at work.

Try these strategies

  • Before you assume, ask; just because you think you know someone, it does not mean they are who or what you think they are.
  • To develop cultural empathy, try being more intentional about it. Make an effort!
  • Take time to listen more, pay attention to what people say, and put yourself in their shoes. You can do this with someone in your family or a close friend and then expand it to other people from your own and other cultural groups.
  • Try using empathy to understand someone from a different cultural group, their life history, their experiences, and perspectives; this will help you gain a deeper understanding of culturally relevant and social justice issues. As you do this, always remember that each one of us has a personal story and a single individual (or story) is not a representation of everyone’s experience.