Empathy is a powerful tool to enrich your life.
What is the purpose of empathy in our lives? ‘Empathy’ is often a word you use with respect to other people and your expectations of them.
We make comments like “they don’t have empathy” or “they need empathy.” Sometimes it seems as though we don’t have a deep understanding of what being empathetic even means to yourself, let alone what it means to others.
But what if empathy is linked to your emotional intelligence and helps you become the most successful version of yourself?
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for another, but rather, it’s the ability to feel compassion for what their experience is. It’s finding a way to recognize “me” in “you.”
Empathy can come off sounding “soft” or unnecessary, especially in business. In reality, empathy is the basis of emotional intelligence (EQ). Your ability to understand yourself, your emotional landscape, and put yourself into another person’s shoes gives you an EQ advantage.
If you have ever wanted to improve a relationship, the willingness to step out of your own perspective and step into the experience of another person is fundamental. You’re required to take your self-centered goggles off and look at another perspective.
In most relationships, you start off happy with lots of positive expectations. Then, due to the daily hazards of interacting with other people, those positive feelings can erode. You develop habits of interactions, conversations, expectations, and arguments.
You build walls against the annoyances, the hurts, and disappointments and begin to see yourself as different than others; you can lose the ability to care. It’s your ability to care that allows you access to the other person’s emotional landscape. The loss can cause no end of issues.
You might see others’ motives more harshly or negatively than you would have if you had kept your openness toward them. And, while people are hardwired to care, there are social and cultural impacts that can negatively affect your ability to empathize.
This decline has ramifications on all your relationships. It impacts work atmospheres, and it affects the bottom line. Relational wreckage takes time and resources to fix. One positive take away is that what can be unlearned, can also be relearned.
What is required is conscious awareness, intention, and practice. Relationships are key to success, and empathy is the key to relationships.
So, what’s a person to do to be more empathetic?
Here are 5 ways you can increase empathy and improve the relationships in your life, both platonic and romantic:
1. Improve Your Awareness of Emotions
In a nutshell, it’s time to wake up. This means seeing yourself with clarity. We all feel things, and “awareness” means you understand your own emotions.
If you know you’re happy, annoyed, distracted, angry, or hurt, you can take steps to take care of yourself.
Shifting from an egocentric perspective about my feelings into one of “insights” that allow you to access the idea that other people are feeling something, too. Your understanding of your emotions helps you to read and understand other peoples’ feelings.
Think about it: businesses often handle customers in ways that no individual would enjoy being treated. It isn’t rocket science; it’s common sense. If I were treated the way I’m treating others… how would I react?
2. Develop Your Curiosity
Have you ever had a boss, co-worker, even a friend, who was terminally set on “output?” It can shut you down if all someone does is talk at you.
Empathy is expressed by actually showing interest in what someone else is saying, not just about what you’re saying. Take time to ask questions, work on developing an understanding of who they are, remember peoples’ names, remember their families’ names.
Showing interest in people matters. I recently read a book called The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, and she talked about this very thing. Charismatic people show interest in others. They are looking at you, listening to you, and responding to you.
You don’t remember what people do, you remember how you feel.
3. Have a Willingness to Listen
Steven Covey called it the “dialog of the deaf” when everyone is talking but no one is listening. If you walk through the world and don’t care about the experience of others, then reread the above paragraph.
Empathy is grounded in listening. You need to be willing to suspend your own voice, perspective, or opinion long enough to really listen to the other person. Hearing someone is not even close to the same thing as agreement.
So, you’re not necessarily agreeing with everything they say when you listen to understand. You’re just working on really understanding what they mean and where they’re coming from.
Listening is as essential a tool as being able to read or write. Many of the most significant issues in communication stem from misunderstanding and a shortage of listening.
4. Be Aware of Your Presence
This means your nonverbal body language. This really fits with listening, in that you project your feelings by all sorts of nonverbal cues. you can say, have a nice day, and mean very different things based on tone alone. your posture can communicate annoyance or interest.
When you’re paying attention and have a goal of curiosity or interest, you communicate that clearly with how you hold yourself, the types of questions that you ask, the reactions and responses to what’s being said. All this, wrapped up in a bow, is presence.
5. Allow Yourself to Be Open
People have different perspectives. you come to life situations from different cultures, experiences, and belief systems. If I care about XYZ and I want a team or an organization to be successful, I want to hear all the perspectives.
Some call this brainstorming, but successful leaders learn to use these differences to make informed changes. It’s essential to ask the quiet folks to speak up.
It’s effortless to get all the extroverts to share, in fact, they will at times overshare, but getting lots of people to share takes paying attention. Openness means that you want to hear many perspectives, ideas, insights, and opinions.
This enriches your relationships and helps you stretch yourself past the limits that you can create by not entertaining enough ideas.
Basic psychology says you like people who like you… Say that a few times, because it’s crucial.
You feel open and available when you’re around people who treat you as important. Not in the “You’re so amazingly important” sort of way, but rather treat you as though you matter. To do this, it helps to see people as human beings.
And, yes, humans have foibles, they aren’t perfect, and still, they deserve to be seen.
Empathy is the pathway to increasing your emotional intelligence and having compassion for the people around you.
Empathy is easy to overlook, but you do so at your own peril. And anyway, don’t you all need to show up and be a little bit kinder and more empathetic of the human experience that you are all sharing? I would vote yes.
This guest article was originally published on YourTango.com: What Is Empathy & How To Be More Empathetic In All Of Your Relationships.
The post 5 Ways to Become More Empathetic in All Relationships appeared first on Comfort Shields Therapy.