Do you know the phrase “walk a mile in another person’s shoes?” Well, that is empathy. It’s the ability to go outside of you and see the world from the perspective of another person in order to more deeply understand how they may be feeling in a situation. It’s important because it helps you to navigate the world in a better and more understanding way. Here are ways you can make sure to incorporate empathy into your world.
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, empathy is important to practice for many reasons. Through empathy you can learn to treat people in your life the way they wish you would treat them. It helps you to understand the needs of those around you as well as understand how your actions and words impact others. At work, it can help you understand the needs of a customer, coworker, subordinate or boss. It makes it easier to navigate relationships both in your personal and professional life and perhaps even help you to foresee the actions and responses of people you interact with. It’s a valuable skill that will not only benefit you, but those you come into contact with too. Practicing empathy helps to motivate others and helps you to deal with negativity and stress that other people can bring into your life.
Developing Empathy through Listening
Conversations reveal a lot about a person, and listening closely and carefully to what they’re saying. Many people have a tendency to formulate a response in their head as the other person is talking and if you’re doing that then you’re not really listening. Next time you have a conversation take a deep breath and slow down. Force yourself to listen to what they are actually saying and consider their motivations. In heated conversations it can be difficult to think about the experiences of the other person that lead them to where they are now, but through truly listening to what they’re saying you can better understand them. As they’re speaking respond with words that let you know you are hearing them. Ask follow up questions to try and better understand what they’re saying before you give your response. You’re going to need a minute to think about that response anyway since you’ve been listening so raptly to what they’re really saying, right?
Developing Empathy through Observation
This can be the fun part of developing empathy. When you’re waiting for the train or the bus, or stuck in traffic, put down your cell phone and just look around you. Imagine the stories of the people around you, who they are, what they may be thinking or feeling and where they are trying to get to. Do they look happy? Determined? Frustrated? Sad? Are they from here or maybe an exotic location like Borneo? Are they having a good day? Try to imagine all that and actually care about it.
Developing Empathy through Conflict
Do you have an ongoing disagreement with someone else? It can be a family member, coworker or friend. Think about the quarrel and then turn it around and imagine the whole thing from their point of view. They are not evil, they are not your enemy, and they are simply a person that has had a different life experience than you that have lead them to their current state of opinions. What do you think those reasons are? How does this person feel about you and how you are responding to them? Do they have any valid points or concerns? Often, just going through this exercise can help reduce any frustration or angst you may be feeling about the situation.
Try some of these approaches and see what a difference they can make in your life in dealing with others. Who knows, it may even give you a little insight into yourself!
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