Humans are wired to be social, and each relationship adds an enriching layer to life as people learn more about each other, from what brings joy to what brings sorrow. To learn how to be more empathetic, consider the metaphor of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Envision yourself walking their path in daily life, imagining what you would do when faced with similar life circumstances.
When you do this, knowing how to be more empathetic might come easier. When you express empathy, you’re able to sympathize, actively listen and learn from your similarities and differences. Learning how to be more empathetic, at its most essential core, is really about being present with another person in your relationship with regard to where, why and how they are in the moment.
Are Levels of Empathy Declining?
It may easier to be absorbed in what’s happening in the news and in daily life from a distance on social media, perusing your phone, but does that mean you don’t care? Studies are revealing that empathy may be decreasing among America’s youth and among the classes. One study revealed a long-term fall of almost 50 percent in levels of empathy among undergraduate students in the last thirty years, and another study linked a lack of empathy with wealth as inequality gaps widen.
In a technological age, learning how to be more empathetic is beneficial to all types of relationships. From professional to personal relationships, employ these tips to boost your empathy levels in everyday interactions:
Practice Active Listening
When your emotions are on high alert, it’s natural to react instead of interact with someone when in an argument. In this hyper-sensitive environment, it’s easier to not acknowledge respective needs and emotions of others, but when you actively listen, you thoughtfully respond.
Let the other person express their needs and feelings. Active listening is about repeating back to another person, in your own words, what they’ve said, showing that you get it. This eases the tension and lessens the risk that something said will be taken personally because it gives an opportunity for empathetic interaction.
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Find Your Center, Find Compassion
Cultivating mindfulness through meditation focused on compassion may boost empathy levels, according to one University of Wisconsin Madison study, revealing how your mind may be rewired as you practice over time.
Meditation is about being present in the moment, focusing on your thoughts, feelings, breathing and bodily responses. Compassionate meditation redirects your thoughts specifically to focusing on wishes for well-being toward others. Compassion is only one element of empathy, but it’s a good starting point.
Keep in touch with your center, witnessing without judgment how your body responds, and remind yourself that you are still in control of your own responses while honoring your feelings. This will allow you to keep calm and respond with thoughts of well wishes toward others, opening you up to their experiences in an empathetic and positive way.
Focus on Shared Values
Before you turn to negativity and look for differences, look for what you have in common with someone. What are your shared values?
No matter your class, race, education level or background, there are types of shared values that all humans have — an aversion to suffering and a desire to meet basic human needs for survival and happiness. Humans all feel pain, love and have dreams. Everyone has had bad luck. Most people we encounter have lost jobs and worry about putting food on the table for the family.
While you may argue over assets after a loss with family members, the uniting factor is the loss — the value of the life lost and how to heal from that pain. Treasuring positive memories helps family members focus on shared values, which can lead to more understanding of different perspectives.
By actively listening and focusing on compassion and shared values, empathy is gained and enables people to better connect in personal and professional relationships. As a result, the quality of these relationships will improve. Empathy will enrich your life, encouraging new perspectives, lessons and personal growth.
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