Empathy is an invaluable quality. On a humanitarian level, it reflects our openness and compassion to the circumstances of other people and communities, and a shared experience of thoughts and feelings. On a social level, it can improve our interpersonal skills and promote successful social interaction. So, what exactly is empathy?
Empathy is defined as the capacity for one person to understand someone’s lived thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It can be nurtured from the early stages of childhood, with parents encouraging their children to express feelings, and in reacting to their feelings, they teach them how they can understand those of others. But, learning and understanding the depths of empathy doesn’t end at childhood!
Let’s take a look at four handy ways we can boost our senses of empathy as adults!
Practice Active Listening
Listening plays a crucial role in our social life, but an even bigger role in cultivating empathy. Listening with intention involves paying genuine attention to the other person, and watching out for the emotions underlying their words. Active listening involves signaling to the other person that they’re heard, understood, and safe from our personal interpretations of what they are sharing with us.
Active listening helps us put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and see things from their perspective, and to process the real wants, needs, or desires that they are trying to convey. Maybe they just want to vent out loud to you, maybe they’re hoping you could guide them, or maybe they just want you to reassure them that you’re here for them.
Take your time to reflect on what they’re saying, and try not to interrupt. Try engaging through smiles when appropriate, and maintaining eye contact. You can also mimic their posture ( knowingly doing so is an indicative sign of not only being an active listener, but an empathetic one too). Lastly, you can attempt to demonstrate your listening by bending your head slightly on your hand and/or slightly leaning toward them.
Understand Non-Verbal Language
Developing our understanding of non-verbal language can help us improve our empathetic responses to another person, as we can be more keenly aware of the other person’s mood and emotional state through considering posture, physical gestures, and facial expressions at the same time.
Sometimes it can be difficult to express our feelings or thoughts, for any reason, but if someone we trust manages to relate to us effectively… The burden we feel, the weights of our innermost emotions, can be lifted.
Keep an Open Mind
Keeping an open mind can help us develop our empathetic feelings towards one another. While it’s hard to be completely unbiased, there are a couple of tricks we can practice to help keep an open mind. That way, we can create a safe environment not just for our friends and our loved ones, but also ourselves.
Having an open mind refers to the acceptance of the myriad possibilities of the world, or in other words, embracing that there’s more to the world beyond what each one of us has been taught. In a nutshell, this means accepting that at some point of our lives, our opinions are going to get challenged, and instead of discouraging us, or shaking our beliefs, it should entice us to revisit/rethink them.
To help us develop an open mind and improve our ability to empathize, we can try to separate our opinions from those of other people, not enforcing what we believe is right on them, and respecting their thoughts and opinions as equally as we respect ours. Paying attention to a person, showing how invested we are and how much we value what they have to say, all factor in broadening empathy as a quality. Greater tolerance and patience, both with others and ourselves, comes from accepting our differences.
Self-awareness plays a massive role in improving our empathy. In a cognitive sense, the more conscious we are of our emotions, the more likely we are to develop a better understanding of the emotions of others, which can ultimately help us relate to them and/or what they’re going through. Try experimenting with grounding exercises, such as practicing mindfulness and meditation, which can help us stay in touch with our inner feelings and experiences.
Developing our empathetic and sympathetic feelings can create an exceptionally warm embrace for our social circle! Explore how we can expand our social skills, and create meaningful relationships with Holisticly’s very own virtual coach, Holi!