Frequently Asked Questions about Tea & Empathy

Why did you create the Tea & Empathy feelings cards?

I created the cards to use in my Tea & Empathy workshops, where participants learn to understand and talk about their own feelings and the feelings of others. People often struggle to name their feelings. Having cards with feelings words on them can help given names to what their feeling. That alone can be transformative. It can also help them connect to what others are feeling. It's a simple but powerful tool for self-reflection and connecting with others' feelings - both essential skills for improving empathy. 

The workshops have been run by me, and other hand-picked empathy educators I've trained, in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Participants often expressed a desire to own a deck of Tea & Empathy feelings cards to use at home, so I started offering them for participants to purchase.

"WTF is empathy actually? It’s quite the corporate buzzword these days."

More and more leaders are talking about empathy's pivotal role in relationship building, leadership, and effective management. This trend is promising, but often empathy is just a word that is dropped into mission statements without any resulting change in corporate culture. It’s a call to action that doesn’t always lead to much action.

There’s a lot of confusion about what empathy actually means. People define empathy in a number of different ways. As in “love,” there are many shades of empathy. In my writing and teaching, I think of empathy like this:

Empathy: The state of having curiosity about, and nonjudgmental engagement with, someone else’s emotional world.

In other words, it’s about being fully present with someone’s feelings without trying to change them.

It’s about offering your presence and attention, well before you suggest a strategy or offer advice. It’s about connecting with someone's experience and listening deeply in an attempt to understand them.

You’ll notice I include “curiosity” in my definition. I think curiosity is a prerequisite for empathy. We have to be curious about what someone else is feeling before we can engage and connect with those feelings.

"Aren’t some people just better at empathy than others?

Sure, I think some people are naturally better at empathy, just as some people are naturally better at music. But most of us can at least learn the basics of an instrument, even if we aren’t a prodigy. While it can take years of practice to master an instrument, most of us can learn to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano in a couple of hours. Getting better at empathy, like getting better at music, is helped along by having good teachers and creating time for plenty of practice.

This is precisely why I created Tea & Empathy. I want to facilitate experiences wherein people can learn how to upgrade their empathy skills, both through receiving empathy and giving it to others. I offering these trainings because attendees tell me they feel awesome afterwards and that it helps them deepen their connection to the folks they love long after the workshop is over.

"Why do you call it Tea & Empathy?"

There are a few reasons why I picked this name. The first is simple: I love tea and I love empathy. I think they make good companions. Some of my most empathetic exchanges have happened over a pot of tea.

Secondly, it’s a play on “tea and sympathy,” a classic British expression that refers to offering kindness to someone in distress. I generally think that empathy is preferable to sympathy, so the upgrade is a little nod to that preference.

At the Tea & Empathy trainings I run, we start with tea for a reason. When we slow down to make ourselves a cup of tea, it helps us relax and prepares us to be present for the empathy part of the event.

The tea component is also a metaphor about self-care. It’s hard to show up for others if your own cup is empty. Tea & Empathy training events are designed to help you feel more empathized with so you have the bandwidth to be more empathetic to others. You get your own cup refilled so you can help fill others’ cups.

Empathy fatigue is a real thing, especially for people in the caring professions. When we constantly provide empathy to others but our own desire for empathy is chronically unmet, it can be emotionally draining and profoundly stressful. At Tea & Empathy events, everyone gets the opportunity to receive empathy from the group about something they choose to share.