Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand another person’s emotions, and it’s one of the most important skills you can bring into your relationships. While some of us are more perceptive naturally, empathy is a skill that anyone can improve on with practice.
1. Be curious
Practice curiosity about the people around you. Observe their facial expression and body language. Turn it into a game and ask yourself, “What are they thinking about?”, “What are they feeling?”, “What are they going to do next?”
When you’re having a conversation, go beyond the weather topic. Ask deeper questions and get interested in the other person’s story. People love talking about themselves, so not only you’ll get to practice, but you’ll also make others feel important.
In conversations let go of all distractions and focus on what the other person is saying. Don’t try to predict what’s coming next, don’t come up with solutions or think about your own response while you’re listening. Simply take it all in and imagine what it would feel like if you were that person.
3. Keep an open mind
Often we interpret events in our lives in a way that may or may not be true from another person’s perspective. For example, if a friend is not returning your calls, it can be easy to assume that she doesn’t care about you, when she may have lost her phone or having difficulties in her own life. I made that exact conclusion about someone and later it turned out that my friend’s dad had just passed away. Clearly, returning phone calls was the last thing on her mind and understandably so. Instead of making a fast judgement, keep an open mind and try seeing the event through the other person’s eyes. It’ll help you understand others better . You’ll also see that more often than not people’s reactions are not about you and there’s no need to take everything personally.
4. Read fiction
A good book has the power to take you into the character’s mind. We have the opportunity to put ourselves in situations that we may never experience in our real life. We get to try on the characters’ lives and emotions, which helps us increase our own range.
5. Get to know yourself
It’s much easier to understand other people when you’re in touch with your own feelings. Many of us try to escape strong emotions (even positive ones!). Next time you experience anger, sadness or intense joy, instead of looking for distractions, allow yourself to feel fully. If it gets hard, take a few deep breaths and stay with it for as long as you can.
Developing empathy doesn’t have to take any extra time out of your day. It’s easy to find opportunities to practice in the interactions you’re already having in your life. It takes some focus, but it can also be fun and you’ll be rewarded by better relationship with others and with yourself.
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