4 Keys to Develop Empathy

Are you an empathetic person? Read this article to find out.
4 Keys to Develop Empathy

Last update: 14 March, 2021

Among all the skills that allow a person to develop as a social being in their environment, empathy is one of the most relevant. That’s why improving empathy is necessary for everyone,

Empathy allows you to develop as a social being. In fact, it helps you understand and communicate with others. It’s that capacity that teaches you that there are more perspectives than your own and that each person observes the world according to everything that’s happened in their history. Thus, it helps you establish solid bonds and somehow makes you more cautious when judging others. For all these reasons, it’s very important to develop empathy.

Thanks to empathy, it’ll be easier for you to identify how others feel, as well as to express your own feelings. Empathy is an art, an ability that allows you to tune in to others and strengthen your bonds with them. Let’s delve deeper.

Sympathizing isn’t empathizing

From the outset, it’s important to differentiate sympathy from empathy, especially from the more psychological conception of both terms. According to the Dictionary of the Spanish Language, sympathy is “the affective inclination between people, generally spontaneous and mutual”, while empathy is “the feeling of identification with something or someone”.

This difference is certainly relevant, since it’s normal for you to think that you’re empathizing with someone when, in fact, you aren’t. Being kind and affectionate with others doesn’t make you empathetic. In order to be so, it’s important to go further by understanding the other person from their perspective and not from your own.

Improving empathy to resolve conflicts

Thanks to the emotional and cognitive connection that this ability allows, empathy can help you solve problems peacefully. By understanding others, it’ll be easier not to be carried away by your impulses.

To empathize is to understand, for example, why people feel unhappy after losing a job, or elated when they learn they’re going to have a child. Generally, relating events to your own experiences is a good mechanism for empathy.

To develop empathy, you can do some exercises. They’re simple to perform and can significantly help you improve your relationship with those around you.

How to develop empathy

First of all, it’s important to understand that your progress and personal development may depend closely on your emotional intelligence. Therefore, before trying to put these exercises into practice, you should try to understand the importance of developing this type of intelligence.

Later, you could begin to put into practice the exercises described below.

1. Training the ability to listen

In order to understand the people you interact with, it’s very important to know how to listen. However, listening doesn’t mean understanding the other person’s words. To really listen, you should pay full attention to the non-literal message and non-verbal communication.

In order to improve this listening skill, it’s also very important:

  • Not to interrupt.
  • Avoid constantly giving your opinion.
  • Listen to the messages without judging.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal communication.

This last point is the most important, as it gives us relatively easy-to-observe clues about what the person is really feeling.

Pragmatic information, whether it’s gestural information, prosodic information, or the person’s belief system and opinions, determines, to a large extent, how you communicate and the success of the exchange between two people.

Therefore, it’s important to try to understand a person’s emotional system. For instance, you can do this through the interpretation of their non strictly verbal communicative patterns. For starters, this will help you be successful in your empathic practice. Therefore, it’s often more important how something is said than the content of the message itself.

2. Remaining calm and opting for tranquility

Learning to remain calm will help you to improve your empathy, since, without calmness, the ability to listen can be reduced. If you intend to improve your ability to listen, it’s important to start from a relaxed state of mind and be open to different communicative possibilities.

By doing this, practices such as breathing control or meditation can be of great benefit to you.

Two friends talking over coffee.

3. Bet on having patience with empathy

Referring to the previous point, patience is also closely linked to empathy. In order to understand the cognitive and emotional processes of those around you, you need time and you need to spend that time patiently.

Initially, you may unconsciously refuse to understand the other person, but with patience, the chances of achieving this will be much greater.

4. Ask for emotions, not data

This point is fundamental if you want to succeed in developing empathy. As you’ve already seen, empathy can sometimes have little to do with the literal message in a conversation. On the contrary, it tends to relate more to emotions.

Therefore, the more you’re interested in the emotions of others, the more empathetic you can be. For example, when faced with information such as “I was promoted at work yesterday”, a person lacking in empathy or disinterested person may ask something like, “So what will you do now, will you work the same hours?”

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh-

However, a more empathetic person might respond something like, “So how did you feel? Do you want to celebrate?” In other words, they would show greater concern for how the person feels than for the practicalities of the matter.

After all, communication isn’t based exclusively on the exchange of words. In fact, communication in words accounts for a low percentage of what we actually communicate. Much less, although it may not seem like it, than emotional communication.

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