Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone’s else position. In other words, it is all about better understanding a person’s feelings and emotions. Yet, it plays a major role in maintaining healthy relationships and adopting social and leadership skills.
According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who enhanced emotional intelligence awareness, there are five key elements to it: Self-awareness, selfregulation, motivation, social skills and empathy.
Focusing on the last-mentioned element, several people believe that empathy is a natural characteristic and something you are born with.
Meanwhile, others consider that it is related to kindness or even pity. In fact, empathy is deeper and more personal, as it actually means to feel the emotions of others.
In addition, phycologists have identified three different kinds of empathy:
- Cognitive empathy: understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions, in a very rational, rather than emotional sense.
- Emotional empathy: ‘catching’ someone else’s feelings, so that you feel them too.
- Compassionate empathy: understanding someone’s feelings and taking appropriate action to help.
As we have learned from extensive research, the capacity for empathy is not merely an innate trait—it is also a skill that can be learned and expanded.
… Dr. Riess is Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Empathetics, Inc. noted.
Although some people are more naturally empathetic than others, there are several ways that anyone can do, so as to better improve themselves and increase their overall empathy towards friends, relatives, colleagues and coworkers.
Talk to New People
It is known that highly empathic people (or HEPs) tend to be curious, want to meet new people and get to know them personally.
Consequently, it is a good start to talk to others about what it is like to be in their position, to listen about their issues and concerns and how they perceived experiences you both shared, in order to expand your empathetic potential.
Learn to listen to others
Try to keep your focus on what the person you are talking to is saying, without interrupting. In case you want to enhance your better understanding of others, you must first hear them in depth and be an active listener.
What is more, studies have shown that the more someone listens, the more connected the person feels with the person who is communicating. After all, listening seems like such a simple, basic thing to do.
Empathy becomes effective when you use it as motivation to do something about someone’s problem. After developing your listening skills, another way that can give your empathy a boost is to start doing things.
However small they might be, they can make a difference in someone else’s life.
When a friend, colleague or relative is passing through some tough times and you are in a more empowered place, be sure that you listen, share, and clearly identify what you can do to offer your help.
Exercise your imagination
Although talking to people and asking them how they feel is a good start, highly empathetic people enhance their empathy skills by putting themselves in someone’s shoes.
Trying to imagine the situation or the circumstances of another individual, is a golden rule for better understanding their thinking and motivations. It is proved that the greater a person’s imagination, the more empathy will be shown by the person.
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
… author J.K. Rowling said during her speech at Harvard University.
Step out of your usual environment
Try to explore new places and cultures. Travelling gives you a better appreciation for others and broadens your horizons.
By getting out of your comfort zone along with the power of travelling, you will learn how to empathize with multicultural people, as it boosts your open-mindedness and respect.
At the same time, racism and several related prejudices are often decreased, when people are more able to empathize with people of different cultures, nationalities and beliefs.
Avoid judging others
As a matter of fact, people have the tendency to be judgmental. According to the magazine Psychology Today:
Empathy is incompatible with shame and judgment. Staying out of judgment requires understanding.
Specifically, criticism makes the person feel shame and believe they are alone.
In contrast, try to first identify the problem of the person you’re talking to, without judging their emotions and then you will be able to see things from another point of view.