Do you ever wish that a certain person in your life would take the effort to really understand where you are from? This ability – to be empathetic – is easier for some people than for others. Empathy helps people get along with others, from loved ones to strangers. So it is worth thinking about your own ability to empathize, which you can improve like any other skill.
“While either genetic inclination or our upbringing makes some people naturally empathic, empathy can be cultivated at any point in our lives,” says Dr. Ronald Siegal, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Empathy helps us understand other people so we can feel more connected and help each other in difficult times, he adds.
What is empathy?
Empathy is a key aspect of emotional intelligence, which includes the ability to identify and regulate one’s emotions and use these skills to communicate more effectively.
Psychologist Carl Rogers described empathy as “seeing the world through the eyes of the other, not seeing how your world is reflected in their eyes”. To be truly empathetic and understand another person’s perspective, feelings, and motivations, one needs to be curious about that person.
“Empathy requires paying attention to the words and body language of others, noticing the feelings that arise within us when we interact with them, and asking them about their feelings. When we do this regularly, we refine our ability to accurately capture other people’s emotional experience, ”says Dr. Seal.
Research suggests that empathy training can improve this ability. It can be part of counseling or formal programs that practice through experiences (such as games and role-playing), lectures, demonstrations, and skills. A study that pooled results from 18 different studies on empathy training found the techniques to be effective.
Try these three ways to practice empathy
You can practice these three measures yourself to develop more empathy:
Acknowledge your prejudices. We all have prejudices or prejudices against individuals or groups, whether we are aware of them or not. So-called conscious bias refers to prejudices that people recognize. An example would be feeling threatened by another group and speaking out against that group’s beliefs or actions. However, implicit or unconscious biases are more subtle, which makes it difficult to identify. Common examples of these biases relate to differences in gender, race, class, age, weight, and culture. It can be annoying and a feeling of shame when our implicit prejudices are exposed. The more clearly we see them, the less they control our thoughts, feelings, and actions. One way to examine your implicit biases is through this test.
Ask questions sensitively. Even if prejudices often arise in personal interactions, these perceptions are certainly not the only reason why people do not understand each other. You can misunderstand someone whose identity and background are very similar to your own. For example, suppose you don’t know how the other person is feeling because you probably don’t. Asking questions is the answer. Try something like, “I think my reactions may be different from yours. What is your experience? How do you see it? “When you express a willingness to hear someone else’s perspective, that person feels respected.
Actively listen. When you’ve asked a question, be sure to listen to what the other person has to say. These three techniques can help:
- Make eye contact to improve your focus and connection with the other person.
- Don’t interrupt – Let the other person stop speaking before you answer.
- If the person is expressing negative feelings about a situation, avoid suggesting possible corrections unless they specifically ask you for advice.