Seven Actionable Tips To Boost Your Empathy and Become More Empathetic
There are steps people can take to acknowledge their biases and to move beyond their own worldviews to try to understand those held by other people. Today I give you seven actionable tips to boost your empathy and become more empathetic.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings and emotions.
It is essential to building good relationships, both at work and in your personal life. People who don’t exhibit empathy are viewed as cold and self-absorbed, and they often lead isolated lives. Sociopaths are famously lacking in empathy.
Low levels of empathy can cause many problems in the workplace — it can leave you feeling distant from your colleagues and it can also lead to a failure to listen and work in harmony together.
In the busy, fast-paced world of business, it may be surprising to learn just how important empathy is when it comes to your personal level of performance and how well you can interact and work with your co-workers.
Put simply, empathy is the ability to see the world through the eyes of another. But true empathy is something more than just that.
A highly empathetic person senses the emotions of those around them, and has the ability to tap into those same emotions within themselves. In essence, they become the person they’re empathizing with by truly experiencing their emotions.
Whether you are a man or woman, empathy is a dying art.
Life is so loud and distracting it becomes harder to sense what is going on around us. Yet empathy is critical to establishing healthy relationships and developing social and leadership skills.
If you want to become a better manager or a just a better co-worker, you should work on improving empathy. Below are three simple ways of doing this.
To boost your empathy, you have to both control your wandering mind and strengthen your capacity to empathize through practice. No matter how you struggle with empathy, these seven actionable tips can help you to become more empathetic than ever.
Tip #1: Experience Leads to Essence
Often when it comes to empathy the solution won’t necessarily have anything to do with how you are at work; instead, the problem may lie with how you are outside of the workplace. Many travelers can attest to the intense personal benefits of traveling around the world and experiencing new people and cultures.
Do something unique and interesting with your time off and see how your perspective on life changes.
Undertake challenging experiences which push you outside your comfort zone. Learn a new skill, such as a foreign language. Develop a new professional competency. Doing things like this will humble you, and humility is a key enabler of empathy.
When interacting with others, feel curious and ask clarifying questions.
Discover what the emotion of curiosity feels like in your brain and body so you can shift to feeling curious when you are with someone. Then, when you feel curious, listen for the details of their story so you can ask questions to help see the picture of what they recall or are experiencing in the moment.
Highly empathic people have an insatiable curiosity about strangers.
They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we all had as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them.
People who read literary fiction perform better on tests of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Reading literary fiction requires people to enter characters’ lives and minds — and by doing so, it increases people’s capacity to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings. Choose novels with narrators who have lives and backgrounds unlike yours, or who live in a different place or time. Choose diverse authors, too.
Tip #2: Walk in Others' Shoes
By taking the time to think about what it would be like to be the persons you’re talking with (what they must be thinking, feeling, their responsibilities, what their day is like), you not only develop empathy for them, but useful insights.
Once you recognize emotion in another person, empathy puts you squarely in that person’s shoes.
Empathy is not feeling what you would feel in that situation; it is stepping beside yourself and adopting their emotions for a few moments. When people become immersed in someone else’s grief, sadness, or irritation, this empathy can not only stand next to them and console them with greater understanding, but it also sends a message that they are willing to take on a painful emotion so that others don’t have to go it alone.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes before criticizing them.
First, try to understand their actions by turning the tables and then decide. The best example for this is the interview process. When you are interviewing someone, think about the interviewee. Put yourself in his/her shoes and try to remember the last time you went for an interview. Do you remember how excited and nervous you were? Then, it is normal for the person you are interviewing with to have the same feelings.
Don’t just stand in someone else’s shoes, but take a walk in them.
Everyone can have moments when they are so preoccupied with getting their viewpoint across that they neglect the act of listening and learning from someone else. Give people the time and platform they need to speak and get their point across and you will find a stronger bond develops and you also have the chance to experience a point of view different from your own.
You will want to slip into the role of the other person and try to view the whole situation from that person’s perspective.
Attempt to leave your opinion of your counterpart aside for a while, no matter how arrogant, illogical or full of himself that person appears in your opinion. While in this state of unbiasedness, it will hopefully be possible to identify and understand the reasoning behind your opponent’s behavior, whether you approve of it is not so important. By understanding the reasons behind your counterpart’s behavior, you have mastered an important hurdle on your path towards compassion.
Tip #3: Listen Hard & Open Up
Listening sounds simple, but it can often take practice to listen 100% to another person’s side of the conversation. Your mind might be on another work task, or on what you’re going to make for lunch. Try to put your own tasks, problems and thoughts aside and focus totally on what the other person is saying. Put yourself in their position and imagine how you would feel.
Listen to others very carefully. Don’t just listen for the sake of listening. Listen with an open heart and mind.
Only in this way, you can understand the entire message the other party is trying to communicate. Pay attention to their tone of voice and body language. Really try to feel what the other person is saying to you. What is important to them? Step outside for a minute and try to understand their perspectives.
Most of us speak at least twice as much as we listen.
It’s easy to get so caught up explaining something that we fail to stop and consider what the other person might be thinking or feeling. And empathetic person, on the other hand, listens first; and only speaks after they’ve carefully heard.
Your own emotions can pose a significant barrier when it comes to noticing what others are feeling.
When you are having a conversation and are looking only at your own feelings and how you can communicate them, you might not be leaving enough attention available to take in what’s going on at the other end. Making an effort to actively listen can help strengthen your emotional understanding and empathy.
It is time to focus again and practice the skill of mindful listening.
Not only because we owe our full attention to others when we converse, but also because the positive emotions of a truly good conversation can help us find meaning. Devote your whole attention to the speaker. Being mindful means being present in the moment and paying attention to what is happening right now.
Tip #4: Smiles are Contagious
Smiles are literally contagious. The part of your brain responsible for this facial expression is the cingulate cortex, which is an unconscious automatic response area. Since smiling releases feel good chemicals in the brain, activates reward centers, and increases health, you’ll truly be doing yourself and your colleague a favor when you show those pearly whites.
Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Be nice to people and smile at them.
Don’t forget that good manners and kindness always win in relationships. If you treat others nicely, you will soon notice that they will also treat you the same way. In this way, you can build a healthy relationship with your co-workers.
Being a good leader has a lot of components, but even something as simple as smiling can be incredibly important.
Smiling indicates to others that you are approachable and nice. Leaders cannot be effective if people don’t like them, so next time you need to get up in front of a group of people, start out by smiling. It will make people more likely to listen to you and be more open to what you have to say. It can help you get what you want without saying a word.
Smiles serve as a way for people to learn to empathize and to better read others by literally trying on their facial expressions.
Smiling is contagious not just because of how a smile looks from the outside, but also because of the intention and the feeling that is put behind a smile. When someone smiles at you, you feel the good vibes from them, which makes you want to pass a smile on the next person, and so on and so forth.
Tip #5: Know Your Biases
Bias is a natural part of the human condition. This is adaptive for us to take mental shortcuts and make conclusions about the people around us. Actively working to combat that is what matters.
We all have certain biases and behaviors in life which can affect how we interact and respond in certain situations.
For example, if you’re often stressed and annoyed or find you feel from distant from people it can drastically hinder your ability to form strong relationships. By putting in the effort to analyze your personal biases, you can gradually overcome them and be a lot more open and welcome in your daily life.
Assumptions are the enemy of empathy. To have assumptions is to harbor preconceived notions that are not based on true understanding or experience.
When you make an assumption, the understanding you draw is rarely a good match to the problem this person is facing. As a result, the connection you try to make feels forced and unnatural. This often leaves the other person thinking something like, “She just doesn’t understand my situation,” or, “He’s not someone I should turn to in the future because he doesn’t listen.”
Unconscious bias means we react without thinking.
Unfortunately, bias is difficult to unlearn, but you can be aware of your own bias and ensure this doesn’t impact your decision making or your ability to empathize. You should never ignore or dismiss how someone is feeling simply because you view them a certain way or have a preconceived opinion of how they think or may behave.
Empathy can be a transformative tool for deconstructing unconscious biases and building understanding between people of different backgrounds.
Think about all of the assumptions we make about the people we encounter every day and ask yourself if they are all correct. As we meet people, or enter new situations, our brain is sorting and categorizing, largely based on gut reactions — I like her, he’s difficult, their work is sloppy. This sorting is largely superficial and drawn from instincts, not facts.
Tip #6: Tip #6: Make Yourself Vulnerable
Being vulnerable strengthens your own empathy in two ways. First, feeling the value of empathy when it’s reflected back to you can deepen your commitment to being empathic for others. You also gain more comfort navigating tough emotions in conversations with others.
You can’t expect others to show vulnerability if you don’t open up yourself.
Show your human side and share your own worries, stories and emotions with your team. People will feel empathy towards you, and will therefore be more likely to talk themselves when the time comes.
Too many professional conversations stay in emotional “Safe zones.”
We fear vulnerability because we worry that others may perceive us as foolish or weak. Brené Brown — a brilliant woman at the forefront of vulnerability research — says that vulnerability actually helps us connect with others, because it communicates that we’re human; complete with our own weaknesses, hurts, and fears. This creates a feeling of sameness that gives the other person something to connect to.
Emotional courage is sharing our feelings with those who are important to us and accepting their feelings as valid and important.
Being vulnerable allows us to create new ideas and to see fresh possibilities that were previously blocked from our minds. We take the risk that our creations will be judged poorly or rejected and that we may feel shame or inadequacy as a result. However, we risk failure in order to have the chance of success.
Choosing to empathize with another requires things from us, doesn’t it? Showing empathy requires that we be vulnerable.
If we choose to not show empathy to those we claim are our friends, spouse, family, etc., then we can never hope to have relational intimacy. We need to move about our relationships with COURAGE. Courage is what we need be vulnerable, which leads to our willingness to choose and risk showing empathy to another.
Tip #7: Take Action
Small demonstrations of empathy and compassion go a long way. Give people your full attention and make a mental note of things they say, so you can form meaningful conversations with them in the future. You’ll develop a reputation for being caring and trustworthy if you take an interest in other people’s lives and feelings.
Because empathy means that you are adopting the emotion but not the tough situation that gave rise to it, you are usually in a more empowered place to help.
Practicing and honing your empathy will help you to always act from a place between logic and emotion. It can help you evaluate situations from a very balanced perspective. That means you don’t get carried away by people’s emotions but also go beyond the cold logic that sees things but does nothing.
Keep in mind that there’s no one right way to demonstrate your compassionate empathy.
It will depend on the situation, the individual, and their dominant emotion at the time. Remember, empathy is not about what you want, but what the other person wants and needs, so any action you take or suggest must benefit them.
Even offering to make a cup of tea for someone, remembering people’s names even if you don’t work with them often… small demonstrations of empathy and compassion go a long way.
Give people your full attention and make a mental note of things they say, so you can form meaningful conversations with them in the future. You’ll develop a reputation for being caring and trustworthy if you take an interest in other people’s lives and feelings.
Compassionate empathy means being able to provide useful support to the people in your life.
Lewis Carroll once said that one of the secrets to life is understanding that we’re not here just to exist. We’re also here to help and make sure that everyone can experience the world in a dignified, beautiful way.
Empathy not only allows you to understand others — it can also give you the motivation you need to make a difference. Whether that means consoling a friend, buying a small gift for someone who needs it, or donating to causes helping natural disaster victims, empathy becomes effective when you use it as motivation to do something about the problem.
Empathy in the workplace is particularly important.
It helps us to connect with our colleagues and help them through the day-to-day. As a leader, empathizing with your team is key to getting the best results from your people. We all like to feel listened to and understood, after all.
Empathy is a skill, and any skill feels a little cumbersome at first.
But the more you do it, the more natural it’ll become and the less conscious thought it’ll demand. Keep at it and I promise: You’ll get there; and the relationships you’ll build and connections you’ll form will be worth it.
As a human, you have empathy. You need to choose to be present, and willing to believe what you are sensing.
In truth, you are an excellent mind reader. You just need to pay attention and be willing to believe what you read. It’s up to you to boost your empathy to strengthen your relationships and improve your social skills.
The follow-through on empathy means initiating positive change for others. The beautiful thing about empathy is that when others begin to flourish, it improves your own life as well.
We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships. Now it’s time to make the world a more compassionate place, one act at a time. Are you ready? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!