As a child, you learn and increase your empathy from interacting with both parents and peers, talking more in-depth about your feelings, how and why you feel this way. Even adults have problems with understanding one another and the world at large when feeling multiple emotions and thoughts at once. In one conversation, you may experience fear, sorrow, relief and joy, as you learn more about yourself and another, but is there a way to increase your empathy in adulthood?
Empathy is a part of your emotional intelligence, and this interpersonal skill can enhance relationships in your life and the way you relate to and communicate with others. Increase your empathy naturally by focusing on these four steps, like the steps of dance:
1. Be Present and Listen
Bring your attention and awareness to the present. Empathy is often left on the back burner when your mind wanders to an assumption, unmet expectation or to-do task.
Slow down and breathe. Focus in on the immediate details in your environment, such as a coffee cup or pen. Then, give your awareness and attention to the person in front of you communicating their experience. Listen actively and paraphrase their words as you understand them because this shows you’re truly receiving their perspective objectively and from their point of view. You’re showing empathy.
2. Pay Attention to Yourself
How are you feeling at the moment? How do you feel about what’s being said to or at you? What do you think?
If that’s too much to focus on, look to the clues your body is giving you. Is your breathing or heartbeat increasing? Does your chest feel tight, or is your posture restricted instead of relaxed?
Body language also communicates. Focus on relaxing your body, one small muscle at a time. Sit up, relax your arms, and uncross your legs. Show you’re truly listening by making eye contact when it’s obvious this person wants you to see them, but if the situation is challenging, look away from time to time to relieve tension.
You should also pay attention to your raw vulnerabilities and sensitivities that you fear will come out unchecked. Don’t avoid your feelings, and remember your breathing. It’s okay if you need time to process these feelings, but speak up about that right and need. Respond with as much good intention as possible.
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3. Be Authentic and Cultivate Positivity
Don’t let yourself slip into speaking superficial words to brush a situation or emotions under the rug. Be authentic with your presence and word choices. Seek out words that right for you and the situation communicated with as much kindness as possible. Focus on role models for empathy such as Confucius or the Buddha.
4. Find a Way to Validate Another’s Perspective
You may not agree with other person’s perspective or way of doing things, but you don’t have to agree to find a way to validate another’s perspective. It’s not yours. There’s your story, their story and the rest of it. See this act as a gateway to another’s world: when you understand why this person believes what they believe, reach out and acknowledge that you get it. This simple act demolishes the tallest of walls separating people from reaching a state of harmony in their relationship.
Meet this person where and why they are in the moment. They hold different opinions than you do, and that’s okay. Have you walked in their shoes? Is there a way you can relate? Validating another’s perspective without judgment or criticism gives you both strength and peace.
Keep asking questions objectively and listen. You don’t have to have psychic-level intuition to understand what someone is going through, and sometimes simply listening and offering a non-judgmental presence is the best way to empathize with and comfort another effectively.
Applying a kind and open intention to the situation and toward the person will increase your empathy. Begin with intention and commitment toward these simple ways of being empathetic, and you’ll find yourself growing and identifying with others in a way you never imagined.
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