Developing Empathy – Playing Emotional Charades

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of EmotionsRobert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Developing Empathy – Playing Emotional Charades

I truly believe the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our children is the gift of empathy. That is the ability to see and feel life from someone else's perspective. Empathy is at the root of compassion and positive relationships as well as all good communication.

Empathy is behind our ability to listen well and really understand what someone else is trying to tell us. It helps us to to frame and convey our messages to others. But, sadly, not all of us seem blessed with empathy by birth and up bringing.

So, what can we do to develop our empathy skills?

The following is a little exercise for children taken from a book that now sadly is out of print “Adventures in Guidance: How to Integrate Fun into Your Guidance Program”. I believe it can easily be adapted for adults who would like to polish up their empathy skills.

Emotional Charades

This little game is about communicating emotion non-verbally to a partner.

You work in pairs;

  1. First create a simple set of card with the names of the whole range of feelings on them – one feeling on each card.
  2. Now one partner takes a card and acts out the feeling.
  3. The other person guesses the feeling and its strength
  4. You follow up each word with a discussion. Why the actor chose that particular strategy for conveying the feeling? What did it feel like to act it out? What did it feel like to watch?

Feelings like anger may be pretty easy to guess – but the feelings of acting out and watching could be interesting. When it comes to things like hurt, shame and guilt things might get more complicated.

The game becomes more useful, if you can play it with a number of different partners and people from different cultural backgrounds. You will find that different cultures can learn to express feelings very differently – a smile doesn't always mean you are happy!

I wish you success in developing your empathy skills and I hope life will become richer as a result. 

Wendy Smith is a Life Coach with Career and Business Coaching skills. She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at

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