6 Ways to Become More Empathetic
We interact with other people on a daily basis, sharing stories and experiences, but how many of these people can we truly and sincerely say we understand? How often do we really feel for the other person? How often do we empathize?
A paper written by Jean Decety and Keith Yoder from the University of Chicago defines empathy as a “multifaceted construct used to account for the capacity to share and understand the thoughts and feelings of others.” Empathizing means being able to place yourself in another person’s shoes and have a deep understanding of their feelings.
Being able to empathize with others is not only beneficial to them but also to yourself. Empathy helps create strong social connections with others, aids in the management of your own emotions, and encourages a helping behavior. These benefits are all instrumental in attaining good mental health, which is crucial for inter- and intrapersonal relationships. In line with this, Maryville University notes how mental health is directly linked to your performance at work or school. Empathy plays a central role in an emotional intelligence – a quality which Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves have found to be responsible for 58% of an individual’s job performance. Given the importance of being able to empathize with other people, how can we work on being more empathetic?
1. Connect with others
One sure-fire way to practice empathy is by suspending your own judgments and making an effort to look at things from another person’s point of view. This practice is called "connected knowing." Through this approach, you will be able to empathize better and "put yourself in someone else's shoes", thinking of the situation in a way similar to how the person you are talking to would.
2. Be vulnerable
When we speak with others, we often keep this safe distance in the fear that we will be perceived as weak. However, according to Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, being vulnerable helps us connect with others better. Vulnerability exhibits our weaknesses, emotions, and fears – all of which are things that everyone battles with on a daily basis. This then creates a feeling of “sameness” that makes it easier to communicate and relate to others.
3. Be curious
As for Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at the University of California, the key to being more empathetic is curiosity. Due to our humanity, sometimes just imagining how someone would feel is not enough to really feel for them. To address this, Halpern suggests a practical and easy solution: ask. Knowing another person’s life in its details can help you have a better grasp of what they might be feeling.
4. Check your bias and privilege
Everyone has their own set of biases, even if we try to deny it. Biases are unconscious, adaptive tools we utilize to protect ourselves, while privileges are the things that give us special status, and being aware of both will help you relate to others more. This awareness is also key to avoiding saying things that may be true to you but not for others.
5. Listen attentively and actively
According to Albert Mehrabian of the University of California, only 7% of what we try to communicate is in words – the remaining 93% is embedded in our tone and gestures. If you are playing with your phone or doing something else while talking to someone, a hefty portion of what the other person is trying to say won’t reach you, making it even more difficult to relate to them.
6. Read books
Books are magical things that can take anyone on a beautiful journey without them having to leave their seats. Reading both fiction and nonfiction will allow you to delve into the thoughts and hearts of people and characters who may not be similar to you. With this, you’ll be immersed and exposed to lives that hold truths different from yours. So when you have to talk to actual people, you have that knowledge that things may be going differently for them.
Written by By Jane Wright