Can we become more empathetic? We sure can. Empathy is a skill that can be learnt. In fact Brene Brown author of Dare to Lead and Daring Greatly states that empathy requires practise. She recommends a number of steps for people who are seeking to become more empathetic
- Be kind.
- Be curious.
- Don’t try to fix the situation or make the person feel better. Connecting and listening is powerful on its own.
- Try to understand how the person is feeling (not how you might feel in the same situation).
- Help people know that they are not alone in their feelings. Even if you’ve never had that experience, you might know the feeling.
- Let people know that you are grateful they shared with you.
There are also a number of activities that we can engage in to become more empathetic:
- Invite feedback- sometimes it’s hard to hear about areas that need improvement, especially if those areas don’t align with our own self perceptions but feedback often provides us with information about our blind areas, areas about ourselves that it is hard to see clearly. Feedback from colleagues, friends and family gives us information about how we are coming across to others for e.g. do we seem engaged and attentive when they are talking or do we come across as genuine or condescending.
- Spend time with strangers- some researchers found positive experiences with people who are not like us impacts our brain causing us to be more empathetic to whose are different to us. Positive experiences somehow link us, helping us to connect with our similarities rather than being driven apart by our differences. Its easy to be empathetic when you can relate to the person.
- Practice empathy to ideas and views that are different to yours. It can be hard to feel anything positive to ideas that are different to ours. However, empathy requires that we do not judge the situation but rather connect with the emotion- distress, embarrassment, anger that the person is feeling because it is very real for them. We are familiar with the emotion even if we don’t agree with the cause, and this allows us to better connect with the person.