For years, the first thing I thought of when I heard the word “empathy” was a line from Psych , “You know I’m an empathetic crier.”
While I am not an empathetic crier, I am definitely an empathetic person. There is just something in the air whenever a person around me has a specific emotion, especially if they’re feeling it strongly. Humans are complicated creatures, so I definitely don’t get it right every time, but I’d say I’m pretty good at being aware of what’s going on around me and in the people around me. This helps me adapt to different situations, it helps me relate to people so that I can actually get to know them instead of just making small talk for hours on end.
In a technology-driven, friend request saturated yet friend deprived world, empathy is becoming rarer and rarer. There are even books on why it is an important skill to teach children in order for them to succeed, and quite a few methods for how to and reasons why. There’s no doubt that being able to relate to others in person, in addition to online, is an incredibly important thing to develop. So, how does empathy play out in the real world?
In business, it can be the thing “that moves business forward,” and based on my experience I would have to agree. In relationships, it can be a key factor as to whether or not your relationship is happy and healthy, as it gives you the chance to put yourself in the other person’s position, identify their emotions, and learn to feel with them.
While there is no one “right” way to develop empathy, this article at Mind Tools has some great strategies to start making it a habit in your daily conversations. I’ve found I’m at my most empathetic when I ask questions, instead of assuming. A lot of conflicts that happen can be resolved simply by getting out of your own head a bit, and using questions to get into another person’s. Even simple questions like “Why do you think that?” can make what seems like a massive chasm of differences seem a lot smaller, and help you both/all relate better.