The ability to listen to another person’s perspective or experience, and respectfully acknowledge their feelings is what I call empathy (especially if they are different than your own).
Showing empathy is a personal responsibility, as it enables us to understand situations that our friends, family and colleagues are going through and then provide the support they may need, which in turn (you guessed it) strengthens the connection you have with them. However, I have found that it can sometimes be difficult to show empathy when you haven’t been through a similar situation or if you don’t see it as significant. Therefore it’s important to remember that humans are emotionally complex and we all feel, think and process things differently.
This blog explores three tips that will help increase your empathy when listening to another’s story (or perspective), even when you may not agree. These will help you form a deeper connection and understanding with the person sharing their story with you.
Tip 1. Active listening (but don’t interrupt)
This is something I actively work on, as I am guilty of interrupting people when they are talking, mainly because I agree with them or have been through a similar situation and can add value to what they are sharing, but I am aware that this can be frustrating to the storyteller. To help myself from interrupting, I like to use sympathetic responses, like nodding, and gestures of surprise or admiration to show that I am paying active attention whilst they share their story. Active listening is a key skill to continually improve, as it will positively affect all relationships in your life whether it is family, friends or colleagues.
Tip 2. Use people’s names
This may sound trivial but your name is an essential part of your identity, and it feels terrific when people use it. When someone uses my name in a conversation it not only makes me feel like they are listening, but also makes their response more personalised, fuelling a sense of warmth. Research has shown that people feel validated and respected when a person they are talking to refers to them by name, meaning you are demonstrating empathy.
Tip 3. Have an open mind
Travis Bradberry explains in this article, “Having an open mind makes you more approachable and interesting to others. No one wants to have a conversation with someone who has already formed an opinion and is not willing to listen”. For me, being open-minded means being honest and admitting to myself that I don’t know everything. This means I am open to learning what I don’t know from someone who does. I truly believe that it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, how many countries you have travelled to or how many years you have worked in an industry, you will always be able to learn something new from someone else.
With a life goal of always trying to continuously improve myself, I am constantly trying to build my empathy towards others, as it is such a crucial ingredient in developing my connections with everyone I encounter (family, friends, colleagues and strangers).
If you are still wondering why improving your empathy even matters, I think this quote by Maya Angelou summarises it nicely: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”