Practicing Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person or animal. It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own because you want to, not because you are forced to. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing healthy relationships, creating rapport and being able to help others. You don’t need to know everything about them for them to feel appreciated and respected. 

From the New York Times: How to be More Empathetic: By Claire Cain Miller 

Most of us are surrounded by people who look like us, vote like us, earn like us, spend money like us, have educations like us and worship like us. Humans naturally hold biases and the more we stay in our own circles, the more biased we come. We can learn to be more empathetic to others and this article shows you how. Project Implicit also has a variety of bias tests you can take to check if you are as you think you are. Check it out here.

Here are some easy ways to practice empathy:

Get curious about strangers by talking to people outside of our normal circles. And practice active listening to find out what their life is like, what makes them happy or what their perspectives are on a particular subject. Get Curious.

Get out of your comfort zone more often. Travel to a new place where you don’t know the language. It is a great way to become humble and find out what it may be like for others in a new work place. Get out of your comfort zone.  

Seek out feedback from others. Ask what they think of your listening skills or how you build relationships. See how their perspective may be different than yours. And then find common Ground with people who think differently than you do. Seek and listen to feedback. 

Walk in other’s shoes by thinking about what others may be thinking and ask them more questions, particularly when you don’t know them well. Create a state of wonder to think about why they do the things they do. How they feel and experience things differently from you. Walk in other’s shoes means thinking like them to help understand them.  

Be present and really listen to what is being said and what is really going on. Many of us are too distracted by our phones or things we need to do next.  Take time to be present. 

Consider if you have any biases. We all have them to some degree and they will impact how much empathy we show. Ask others if they think you are biased or take a bias test to find out. Join a social group like a church, charity or support groupDonate money to groups in need different than your own preference. Follow different people on social media to be exposed more often to different views. Really consider your biases and what effect they have.

Mediation helps to cultivate the brain to be more accepting. 

Learn about diversity and inclusion. Things are changing all the time so don’t assume you know the current trends and what is ok to do or say. Stay current on acceptable norms.

Speak up when you hear someone say derogatory comments. Tell people it offends you. Inspire action and help to change in areas you normally would not.