Empathy is the ability to imagine (or understand) what someone else is experiencing in their life. Authentic empathy is a huge ingredient in a close and impactful relationship. But how do we develop empathy?
A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of tips for developing empathy, such as “Three steps to more empathy”, and “Do these twelve things to develop empathy.” If you want more steps than the one I’m going to talk about below, Google is your friend!
There is only one way that I know how empathy is developed: You have to practice it.
As with anything that doesn’t come naturally to us, we have to practice it. You’re not good writing with your non-dominant hand? The only way to become better is to practice writing with it.
Practice makes progress, not perfection.
Practice empathy in your car driving to work. Imagine the different stories that people are facing as they head into work. Try this: If someone cuts you off, or cuts in line, resist the finger or the outburst …instead, tell their story aloud. Perhaps they got a call that someone important to them is ill, or that their child was dropped off at the wrong bus stop. Those would be legit reasons to cut you off.
Practice with people that you don’t know. Ask them questions that will help you understand what challenges they are facing.
Read a novel. Studies have shown that reading fiction exercises our empathy muscles as we get to look inside a character’s experiences that isn’t a threat to our own ego. (As an aside, the Ego is enemy of empathy. The two with fight against each other)
Your empathy muscle needs exercise. Exercise it to become empathically strong so that when you need it the most, you’ve got it.
When we empathize we put our egos aside and share the space with equally important people. We’re all on this same planet, trying to do our best, working things out in our odd ways often times bumping or crashing into one another along the way. It’s messy, but it’s good.
Empathy makes space for everyone in the mess. How can you practice empathy today?