5 Tips To Become More Empathetic
Empathetic skills are crucial to building relationships and developing meaningful connections.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share other people’s feelings and viewpoints. It is essential to various aspects of business and life, including relationships, networking, team-building, communications, negotiations, parenting, healthcare, and human-first leadership.
This article explores how to become more empathetic with five actionable tips to help strengthen your relationships and build more meaningful connections.
Empathetic behavior is the capacity to understand, share, and feel the emotions and experiences of others, often with a sense of compassion.
Empathy is an important social and emotional skill to enable individuals to build meaningful relationships, communicate effectively, and demonstrate compassion towards others.
Empathetic leaders can emotionally connect to others with understanding, care, and concern for their personal experiences.
Why Is It Important To Be Empathetic?
The rise of the Information Age and the growing popularity of the digitally connected virtual workspace has brought the world “closer” than ever before. But it seems like the “closer” we get, the less personally connected we become.
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.
Empathy Versus Sympathy
There are significant differences between empathy and sympathy.
When you’re sympathetic, you might feel sorry for someone or pity the other person’s situation, but there’s still a distance between you and their experience.
When you’re empathetic, you don’t just feel sorry for someone. Instead, you try to understand how they feel and put yourself in their situation.
Empathetic communication is a special skill. It goes back generations before us to those who grew up in a time when sharing feelings and hardships was the natural (and often only) way to form connections with others.
When we express empathy in relationships, it facilitates genuine human connections. People who perceive you as empathetic feel understood, respected, and valued. As a result, you establish yourself as someone who is memorable and trustworthy.
But the benefits don’t stop there.
Why Empathy Is Vital in Generating Referrals for Your Business
Generally speaking, we often think about empathy for our personal lives.
- Comforting a heartbroken daughter.
- Listening to your frustrated spouse.
- Mourning a loss alongside a friend.
However, empathy can—and should—also be practiced in our professional relationships.
When you’re in a referral-based business (and most of us are), empathy in relationships forms because of a fundamental trust between you and your network.
When you express empathy, you deliver an experience to people that they’re not just listened to—they’re heard and feel understood.
This gives your contacts a sense of deeper connection and safety directly associated with you, ultimately laying the foundation for them to trust you with their business.
5 Tips To Become a More Empathetic Person
The good news is that empathy is a skill—and skills can be learned if they’re practiced.
So let’s explore five ways you can begin practicing empathy today.
Tip #1. (Actively) Listen More Than You Speak
It is common to 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 think or feel.
On the other hand, an empathetic person listens first and speaks after carefully considering what they’ve heard.
At Mindmaven, we encourage empathetic listening with each other and all our clients.
Here are five steps you can take to become a better listener and develop empathy in communication:
- Commit your undivided attention to the conversation. That means no cell phones, tablets, or computers. Maintain steady eye contact and respond with cues.
- Let the speaker actually speak. Give them the time they need to finish their thoughts and avoid interrupting them. Silence is a great way to hold space for the other person.
- Summarize your understanding. Once the speaker has finished talking, summarize your account back to them. Then ask, “Have I understood this correctly?”
- Ask insightful, relevant, and nonjudgmental questions. Tap into your natural curiosity to understand the other person’s perspectives, thoughts, and feelings.
- Allow the other person to vent. When someone’s having troubles, they may be emotionally flustered. That’s okay. Give them the space to feel that. Let them talk from their heart and share how they feel; often, this will lead to them discovering their own solutions.
Although people often uncover solutions while talking with an empathetic person, they can attribute that solution to the empathizer.
How you make someone feel—safe, heard, understood, or validated—will stay with them long after the conversation ends.
To learn more about the art of active listening, check out Could You Say That Again? 5 Tips to Build Better Relationships Through Active Listening.
Tip #2: Express Your Perspective
After you’ve heard the other person out, you’re in an excellent position to express empathy by voicing how you’d feel in that same situation.
- “I imagine that must feel awful.”
- “You are doing so well in this difficult situation. I wouldn’t know what to do.”
- “It’s hard for me to imagine how that must feel; I feel sad just thinking about it.”
These comments are great empathy examples to show you understand how the other person feels. However, it’s vital that these empathy exercises must be genuine.
Try to imagine exactly what the other person is going through to take an empathetic approach.
Put yourself in their shoes, experience the moment as if it were happening to you, and let your emotions guide you.
Once you feel those emotions, voice them. More often than not, your emotional response will be very similar to theirs. This can help the other person to feel understood and heard, leading to a greater sense of connection between you both.
Tip #3: Be Vulnerable
Too many professional conversations stay in emotional “safe zones.”
We fear vulnerability because we worry others may perceive us as foolish or weak. Brené Brown—a brilliant woman at the forefront of vulnerability research—disagrees. Brown 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.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and show vulnerability, as this often leads to a greater sense of connection and relation.
Here are three steps to practice being more vulnerable in your professional interactions:
- After carefully listening to the other person, think of a time you were in a similar situation or imagine how they may be feeling.
- Express your emotions to the other person, showing that you want to understand their feelings and that it’s legitimate and valid.
- Share what you learned through your own experience, which may help give another perspective or comfort them in feeling less alone.
We connect through our common humanity by sharing our insecurities and mistakes.
In this article about how to make a great impression, we explore how studies have shown that our brain translates the thought “I am like you” to “I like you” when we establish common ground.
This common ground is one of the most important foundations you can lay in a relationship and is an excellent empathy skill.
Tip #4: Don’t Make Assumptions
Assumptions are the enemy of empathy.
To have assumptions is to harbor preconceived notions that are not based on true understanding or experience.
People can use assumptions as shortcuts to solve a problem, such as understanding a new contact. But we don’t get to see the full picture when we take shortcuts. As a result, we don’t actually “solve” the problem, just project our own perspectives onto it.
Here’s why assumptions are dangerous to empathy:
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 may feel forced and unnatural.
This can leave the other person thinking, “She just doesn’t understand my situation,” or, “He’s not someone I can turn to because he doesn’t listen.”
As you might imagine, these conclusions often cause people to withdraw.
Don’t rush empathy: Don’t try to empathize before truly understanding the situation.
Take an extra five minutes to listen and ask qualifying non-judgemental questions before connecting with the other person.
Tip #5: Use Your Imagination
You won’t be able to relate to every single experience of every person you encounter. But to truly empathize, you still need some form of connection and understanding.
One way to develop this skill is to use your imagination.
The ability to imagine what someone else is feeling—even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves—is critical to empathy.
If you enjoy reading, pick up a book and focus on the character’s actions and feelings for empathy examples. Some true literary classics, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, can be great studies of human emotions.
If you’re looking for something a little more modern, books like The Fault in Our Stars and Me Before You explore the highs and lows of human emotion.
Think you don’t have time for this? Check out the free time management guide: Whitespace Time Management: The Proactive Entrepreneur’s Guide to Owning Your Time and Mastering Your Priorities.
Remember: Developing Empathy Is a Skill
At first, this whole empathetic practice may feel pretty unwieldy. Don’t worry. Empathy is a skill, and any skill initially feels a little cumbersome. But the more you do it, the more natural it’ll become, and the less conscious thought it’ll need.
Keep at it, you’ll get there, and the relationships you’ll build and connections you’ll form with empathetic communication will be well worth it.
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