Empathy involves not only recognizing and understanding the emotions experienced by others but also sharing this emotional experience by observing the world through their perspective. This feeling of vicariously experiencing others’ emotions helps us to improve our connection with others and with the emotions residing within us. Here, we will focus on 5 effective strategies to develop empathy.
We may still face difficulty in empathizing with others sometimes either due to our predispositions and/or the circumstances. This may cause hindrance to our formation of bonds with and with self. To further understand empathy, its importance, and why some people lack it, please click here.
To develop empathy within yourself and minimize the hindrances in unfolding these empathic feelings across multiple situations.
5 Effective Strategies to Develop Empathy are:
- Understand and appreciate the differences
Humans tend to categorize their relations based on group memberships as in-group involving those sharing similar beliefs and opinions and out-group with those having different beliefs and opinions. Research suggests that our ability to empathize with those whom we perceive as members of an out-group is dampened as they might threaten our ideas, beliefs, and principles. Hence, it’s crucial to shift the focus from fearing the differences to appreciating the differences. This can be done by focusing on the following measures:
- Try to connect with new people and attend to what makes them happy, sad, and/or passionate.
You can also follow people from different backgrounds and think about their backstories.
- Try to build a habit of active listening, especially when others have completely different viewpoints from you. If they are comfortable, then ask them their reasons behind holding a particular belief and identify something you can learn from their viewpoints.
- Learn to apologize when you are at fault. If it’s something that is a little hard for you then first try to imagine yourself apologizing to them a couple of times before approaching them.
- Work on your natural biases which might impact your capacity of empathy.
- Identify some similarities which we all mutually share, as well as try to identify what makes others unique and weigh its impact on them.
- Understand your own feelings and emotions
Identifying and managing your own emotions is an effective strategy while developing empathic feelings for others without losing control of your emotions. One effective way to do this is through creating a habit of writing in a journal about your thoughts and feelings every day.
As you make more and more entries, try to be specific about:
- What emotions did you feel?
- How are they different from other emotions?
- What could be the possible triggers for them?
- How can you manage them in the future?.
Similarly, when you find yourself in a position where you are overwhelmed by emotions, try to use a 10-second rule where you take deep breaths while counting from 1 to 10 to calm yourself down. To specifically learn how to manage emotions in your workplace, click here.
- Take other’s perspective
Putting yourself in the shoes of others or understanding their perspective is the core component of experiencing empathy that generates a feeling of connectedness. If you have some difficulty in understanding others’ perspectives, then you can use an effective technique known as Empathy-Picture.
Follow the given steps to learn this technique:
- Firstly, close your eyes and imagine the person you want to empathize with.
- Secondly, think about them in detail starting with what they are wearing, where they are, and what they are doing.
- Finally, See the world from their perspective and question yourself, What gives them happiness? What are their dreams? What are the biggest problems they are facing right now? How do others interact with them?
Similarly, you can use mindfulness to help you understand the perspective of individuals who have a different opinion than yours. You can learn the Trade-places activity which helps in providing more clarity about the others viewpoints. It involves the following steps:
- Sit in a comfortable place and focus on your breathing.
- Think about the uncomfortable or complex situation you have with someone.
- Think or write down the feeling you are experiencing right now.
- Return to the present moment by focusing on your breathing.
- Think about how you are feeling now and write that down.
- Now, think about what the other person might have been thinking and feeling.
- Again, focus on the present moment by focusing on your breathing.
- Build gratitude
Gratitude or showing appreciation to others for their help or even existence can help us experience empathy towards our surroundings and thereby strengthen our relationships with others.
To work on building gratitude, start with writing a gratitude journal where you write as many things that you’re grateful for everyday. Remember that gratitude involves appreciating both the good experiences and the challenging ones. To learn more creative ways to express gratitude, click here.
- Build responsibility
A sense of responsibility and/or accountability is important to understand the impact that our actions might have on others. To develop responsibility one can begin by:
- Reflecting on their interactions with others.
- Seeking feedback to understand areas where they need to improve.
- And by taking responsibility by apologizing when at fault.
At times we might hold some people responsible for the consequences which they are facing but in reality it might be the difficult situations causing those consequences rather than the personality/behavior of the person. Hence, understanding the root causes can help us to better empathize with the person without immediately forming a judgement.
There are other circumstances as well where the individual might have committed a crime and is held responsible for it. So, Can we empathize with these individuals?
Some say that the criminal might be going through a hard time and can be empathized with, but only after a thorough investigation and evidence about the situation and mindframe of the criminal is procured. What do you think about this? Tell us in the comments.
There can be a multitude of complex situations that might arise while you empathize with others and/or help them. In these cases, for more clarity remember the three simple things about a sense of responsibility. These are:
- You are responsible for the actions you take.
- The person you are empathizing with is responsible for their actions.
- While you can try to change some things by helping others, few things can’t be changed by you.
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As the Dalai Lama stated, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries and without them, humanity cannot survive”. Hence, try to show random acts of kindness to make others’ day a little more brightful.