Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” and, by doing so, truly understand what they’re feeling. In this guide, we’ll go over how to build empathy and how to use it to improve your life.
In this article:
- Why Is Empathy Important?
- How to Become More Empathetic
- How to Show Empathy
Why Is Empathy Important?
Empathy helps us to build positive relationships and improve our own mental health.
As you probably know, if you’re a regular reader of One Percent Better, surrounding yourself with positive relationships is essential to happiness and success. Good people want to spend time with others who are capable of empathy, so having it will help you attract healthy friends.
Being empathetic has also been shown time and time again to lead to mental health benefits. Empathy has been shown to lower stress and help us to understand our own issues better.
How to Become More Empathetic
Meditation helps make us more aware of our own and others’ emotions.
Researchers at Emory University scanned human brains during meditation, and they found the parts of the brain linked to compassion and self-awareness were particularly active. Even after the meditation ends, those parts that enable us to understand feelings remain especially active.
Spend Time in Different Circles
In other words, meet new people. When you grab lunch at work, make an effort to sit with some co-workers, you don’t know very well and strike up a conversation. Their viewpoints might not be as similar to yours as those of your best friend but think of that as a learning experience rather than a bad thing.
Learn From Groups You Don’t Agree With
Immerse yourself in communities that oppose your viewpoints, and try to learn where they’re coming from rather than disagreeing off the bat.
For example, if you’re pro-gun control, head to a local gun show and talk to the people there about the right to own guns. It’s very important you don’t come off as argumentative, just curious.
Another fantastic place to do this is internet forums like Reddit. It’s incredibly easy to find communities you don’t know much about and ask them questions.
Join a Large Group Charity
Join a group cause, like a massive food drive or soup kitchen work that will bring you together with people outside your usual circle.
If you are working for the greater good alongside people from different classes, personality types, and locales than you, it will help show you that humanity really is good.
When Someone is Bothersome, Ask Yourself Why
Next time someone annoys you or worries you, do not jump to assuming they are just a flawed person. Instead, actively ask yourself what might have happened in their life to make them act that way. Just speculating on those kinds of possibilities is good practice for thinking in an empathetic style.
How to Show Empathy
When someone senses you are an empathetic person, they’ll open up to you. Now, to show empathy, you need to listen actively by trying out these things:
- Smiling subtly
- Making eye contact
- Putting away your devices
Ask Questions to Draw Out More
While you are listening actively, you should pepper in a few questions meant to draw out more of the other person’s feelings. Make sure not to ask too much. About 90% of the conversation should be dedicated to letting them vent.
Show Gratitude for Opening Up
When someone opens up to you, recognize it, and thank them for trusting you. Assure them you understand, and you support them 100%.
Admit You Biases
Be mindful of your own biases, including your prejudices and your feelings towards the parties involved. Admit any biases in the conversation, and acknowledge that they may cloud your judgment a bit.
Having biases does not make you a bad person, as long as you take them into account and remember to take the decisions that may be swayed by them with a grain of salt.
Repeat What You Heard
During a conversation in which you have to listen deeply, you should “recap” now and then by saying, “so what I’m hearing is..” It will make the person feel reassured you are invested in the conversation.
Some people are lucky enough to be born empathetic, but empathy is a skill that can be practiced. Follow this guide and become the empathetic listener your friends need.
“Empathy” is often confused with the not-quite-as-good “sympathy.” Learn the difference between the two in this video!