Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is what allows us to share in the grief of another person, even if we didn’t personally know the deceased.
Some people seem to be extremely empathetic, connecting with others on a deeply, almost profound level. Yet others seem to struggle with empathy. Increased empathy can help you better relate to others, giving you a wider perspective and view on life. It can lead to a better understanding of who people are and why they react certain ways. If you find yourself lacking in empathy, there are actually steps you can take in becoming a more empathetic person. Here are a few suggestions.
Meet More New People
Practicing empathy often starts with simply meeting more people. People who lack empathy often have a small circle of friends, so expanding that network can often help. The more people you meet, the more personalities and life experiences you will be exposed to.
Better Engage with the New People You Meet
While meeting new people can start to build empathy, engaging them through natural curiosity can accelerate the process. Where were they born? Did they come from a large family? What is their career and what are their hobbies? Look for commonalities in your own life or in others you may know. Empathy is hampered by an inability to connect. Engaging others on a deeper level can bridge those gaps.
If you find someone interesting, make an attempt to share similar experiences. Perhaps they play bingo, have a favorite restaurant or enjoy bowling. If they have a favorite television show or recommend a movie on a streaming service, watch it to see what they may enjoy about it. If they have some behavior that annoys you, take a minute to try to figure out why. Give them the benefit of the doubt. It is likely you may have friends today that took a while in which to click.
Get Involved in a Charitable or Community Project
Working together with a group in a common cause or goal is another way to improve empathy. While initial conversations may revolve around the goal or cause, it will certainly expand to other areas. Once you recognize you have one interest in common, you will likely find others you can relate.
Join a Like-Minded Group
If you are uncomfortable meeting new people, try joining a group of like-minded people. There are book clubs, chess playing groups, senior organizations and even those who enjoy traveling. You can feel a level of comfort in knowing you have at least one area of interest in common, which may lead to others. Engage in deeper, more meaningful conversations just those revolving around the weather or the price of gas.
Reflect on Your Own Biases
It can be challenging to admit we all have our own experiences that may have created biases in our lives. We may prejudge people due to their looks, weight or if they speak with an accent. Some may even pre-judge others for being too friendly or too talkative. These may even be qualities we wish we had more of.
You can build empathy every day when you step out the door into a world of individuals with different backgrounds, nationalities, family situations and financial situations. Some may be grieving and others may be celebrating. Some may be reaching a milestone while others may be entering a challenging period in their life. Understanding this alone can help us be more empathetic to those around us.