Tips for Improving Empathy
If you would like to become more empathic, here are some suggestions:
- Practice active listening. Active listening involves approaching a conversation with a genuine desire to understand the other person’s feelings and perspective, without judgment or defensiveness. When you engage in active listening, you tune into what your conversation partner is saying without interrupting him or her, paying careful attention to their body language and facial expressions and periodically repeating back to them what you think they're trying to say, to make sure you understand them accurately. Research suggests that practicing active listening can increase empathy and improve relationship satisfaction.
- Share in other people’s joy. Empathy is not just about commiserating; it can also be experienced in response to positive emotions like happiness and pride. Research on “capitalisation” suggests that empathy for positive events—such as expressing enthusiasm when someone shares good news—can be just as important for relationship well-being as empathy for negative events.
- Look for commonalities with others. When interacting with people who at first glance seem to be different from you, look for sources of commonality and shared experience. Maybe you’re fans of the same sports team or both know what it’s like to lose a loved one. If nothing else, you can remind yourself that you are both members of the human species. Finding commonalities can help overcome fear and distrust and promote empathy and cooperation.
- Read fiction. Reading a great work of literature—or watching a film or play—allows us to temporarily step out of our own lives and fully immerse ourselves in another person’s experience. Indeed, research suggests that fiction readers are better attuned to the social and emotional lives of others.
- Pay attention to faces. Facial expressions communicate a lot about a person’s emotional state. The Greater Good Science Centre’s Emotional Intelligence Quiz can help you gauge your ability to read other people’s expressions, and it can be used to practice and improve your skills of emotion recognition.
Greater Good Science Centre