September 15, 2016

How to Develop Empathy to Better Connect with Others

Do you find it difficult to get along with others? Do you tend to misread encounters? Do you feel lost about how to show empathy? Then these 5 essential skills on how to develop empathy might just be what you need.

If empathy isn't something that comes quite so easily to you, then, there's no need to be concerned. Not many people find it easy to 'sense' the feelings of others. If this sounds like you and you're curious about how to develop empathy, then, the skills you're about to learn here might just be what you're looking for. There's just one catch. If you seriously want to develop your own sense of empathy, you'll need to be proactive. It might sound like a big ask but, as you'll find below, it might just be easier than you think. Rest assured, however, any effort you put in will be worthwhile—and then some!

5 Essential Skills on How to Develop Empathy

Skill #1: 'See it From the Other Person's Perspective

Have you ever had the experience of sharing something with someone only for them to react in a way you didn't expect? Maybe it was some news, a gift, or an idea? I sure have, and it's taught me a valuable life lesson.
People don't always react as you expect them to.
I've seen people, good, courageous people, make genuinely kind remarks only to get a shrug, or have the other person turn away saying nothing in response. For the person giving the remark, I can imagine it would be very mystifying, and probably even slightly upsetting experience. But, frankly, though, who could blame them? They'd every right to feel ignored, rejected, or even unaccepted. In fact, it would be entirely natural if they felt the need to blast the ignorant, make a sly remark, or express embarrassment. I know the feeling and, perhaps you do to?

These are the types of situations that call for empathy. The ability to quickly 'see it' from the other person's perspective is an important aspect of how to develop empathy. To understand the reason as to why they reacted they way they did. It could very well be that the other person misinterpreted what you said, in which case, you'll need to figure out a different way of expressing yourself. It may also be they don't speak the same language, that they have a speech impairment, or that they are simply just shy. Whatever their reason might be, consider what it might be like coming from the other person's perspective—and remember:
The reason why most people react, respond, or reply a certain way is more to do with them than it is with you.

Skill #2: Analyze Body Language

When chatting with someone, pay attention to their facial expressions and how they move. What sort of feelings could their movements indicate? Anxiety, for example, can be shown through different mannerisms. Rubbing hands together, biting nails and over-blinking, are all signs of someone feeling anxious. Also, people who tend to show down-turned lips and bowed shoulders often represent the feelings of grief. The point is, learning to read body language is a powerful way of showing empathy. Even though someone may be saying one thing, their body language may be saying something completely different.

When you learn to identify the body language of another, you can then begin to adapt your own accordingly. For example, you might sense someone's body language is telling you they are agitated in some way. To adjust, in an empathetic way,  you may need to soften your voice, offer some cheer, or give a friendly reassuring pat.

Also, in the moment it's important to consider whether you may have influenced how they feel. Take into account your own words and manner, and judge whether they could be inappropriate to the other person's circumstances. The more you tune into their mind, the better you can respond. Plus, chances are, they'll appreciate the consideration you show towards their needs. With practice, it's only a matter a time before you become a relationship building master.

Skill #3: Make Connections Through Physical Similarities

It's a fundamental truth that not everyone we meet in life we'll get along with. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's just part of being human. However, there may be times when you find it hard to form a connection with the person you're with. Maybe, someone you're particularly interested in. Then what?

Empathy to the rescue. In such situations, use your empathetic skills to hone in on physical similarities between you. By stopping to notice how many physical details you share, you'll actually realize you're bound to have emotional similarities, too. Regardless of how tucked away, they may be. If you pick out the right physical similarities, you may just be surprised by how much the other person will open up.

The trick is to put those around you at ease by keeping relaxed. If you can do that, soon enough they'll be coming out of their shell. And, when that happens, you may just find they'll reveal thoughts and feelings that are surprisingly similar to your own! Through a dash of empathy, talking through your shared physicalities will help form a connection between you. And who knows, you might just also build rapport that'll really stick.

Skill #4: Consider the Other Person's Situation

The more you know about the person you're socializing with, the more you'll find yourself able to understand their feelings. If for instance, they've just won an award, you can be sure they'll be brimming with excitement and delight. If on the other hand, you know they've had a rough day at work or in class, you'll understand if they seem grumpy, angry, or frustrated.

Either way, they'll probably be experiencing emotions you'll have felt yourself at some time. Learning to consider the possibilities of the other person's situation can help with imagining how they might be feeling, and understand why they are reacting in such a way. It's not an easy skill to develop but, after practice, it can prove to be an invaluable skill for life.

Skill #5: Adapt Appropriately

If you're serious about wanting to know how to develop empathy towards someone, it's important to know how to adjust appropriately. This can include, how you react, how you behave, what you say, and how you say it. How you will you know how to adjust appropriately? By being aware of two key factors:
  1. The person you are wanting to show empathy towards.
  2. The situation you're both in.
By taking these two factors into account, people will not only recognize your skills of awareness but also, appreciate your ability to adapt and behave appropriately towards the person and situation at hand.

See alsoThe Importance of Humility: The Virtue of Humanity.

Mastering the Craft of Empathy

Learning how to develop empathy isn't difficult, and it doesn't have to be. As we've talked about here, no matter how 'good' (or 'bad') you think you are at showing empathy it's a craft worth practicing every day. Despite technology and social media, we know deep down, genuine relationships are hard to come by. Yet, if we boil it all down, it's our relationships with others that we value highly as people.

The ability to create bonds with others, friendships that last a lifetime isn't always easy. But, through empathy, it can be made possible. In a post by Jake Newfield, published on the Huffington Post, no matter who the other person might be, Jake makes the sentiment that: "Empathy is the most powerful tool we possess to bond with people." Sure, it may seem a wooly process, but it really does make for golden relationships—don't you think?