There’s a certain word that I have been hearing a lot lately – a word that I admit, I didn’t know the true definition of until only recently. That word is empathy.
I always thought that empathy meant feeling sorry for somebody or for the situations that one might be enduring. Similar to being sympathetic I guess you could say.
Personally, I don’t think I am the only one who never really knew what empathy truly meant, primarily because it’s not something that is often talked about. Quite simply put, empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. “
But it also goes deeper than that as well. A truly empathetic person senses the emotions of those around them, and has the ability to almost go inside the mind of others and feel exactly what others may be feeling. In essence, they “become one” with the person they’re empathizing with by being able to tap into their feelings and know exactly what others are feeling.
It’s pretty powerful!
The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy
This is where I went wrong. I thought they were much of the same but failed to realize that sympathy is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, while it is empathy that gives you the ability to feel what they are feeling, know exactly where one is coming from, and truly being able to connect with someone on a more personal level.
Think of it this way, empathy implies feeling with a person, rather than feeling sorry for a person.
Why is Empathy Important?
Empathy is a rare skill that many don’t take the time to develop. As I was sitting in a meeting at work yesterday talking about empathy, I realized how much of a role it plays on the business that I drive in.
We are so quick to come to conclusions and judge others because we think we know and have all the right answers. This is especially true in business. When we become a master in our own niche, we judge any outsider as unintelligent and often look down on them when they know only the basics.
But think about how much more effective you could be if you were able to connect with a client on a more personal level. Where are they coming from? What are they feeling? What information do they already know? What information can you serve to them that will benefit them?
These are all questions that show signs of empathy. The more empathetic you are – the more you take the time to understand and get to know where others are truly coming from – the stronger your relationships and connections will be. Think about how much better not only your business would become, but also your life in general.
How to Show More Empathy to Others
1. Actively listen and be engaged.
Listening is one of the most important skills that any of us can develop. When you listen to someone it shows that you care and that you are engaged. You aren’t sitting there twiddling your thumbs, playing on your phone, or thinking about what you are going to do after this conversation. You’re trying to take in every last word that the other person is saying and trying to get a sense of exactly where it is that they are coming from.
Most of us love to ramble on about ourselves, boast about every aspect of our lives, share all of the knowledge that we have, and talk about what separates us from the next person. But if we never take the time to listen to others, we are never going to be able to build connections or know what they are truly feeling.
2. Picture yourself on the outside looking in.
Take some time to picture yourself outside of your own mind. Almost from a third perspective, if you will. How are you communicating with others? Are you being respectful to those who you are communicating with? Are you giving them your attention?
This also helps you to see that maybe you don’t have all the right answers. We are so secluded to one perspective: our own. When we take the time to actively listen and see things from a place other than our own mind, we are given insight into new beliefs and endless possibilities.
When I talk to customers, I sometimes will envision myself standing behind myself. I know it sounds weird, but it helps me to put pressure on myself to have a good conversation and to connect as best as I can with others.
3. Let go of your knowledge for a minute.
You weren’t always an expert in your niche. In fact, you most likely still aren’t. There was a time where you too had very little knowledge of a given topic and had to be taught from others.
There are many others out there who are in the same shoes you once were. They don’t know as much as you now know, and if you want to truly connect with others, be willing to let go of what you know now and try to get a sense of where they are truly coming from.
You aren’t going to be able to connect and relate to every single experience from every single person you talk to. We just interact with too many people on a daily basis. But for the ones who you care about and the ones who take their time to connect with you, build some form of connection and understanding. Let go of your knowledge, go to their level of understanding, and really focus on where their thoughts are coming from.
4. Quit making assumptions.
Assumptions are truly the enemy of empathy. With that said, it’s something that we all do because it’s easier to make assumptions than it is to take the time out of our days to actually get to know a person.
Often, we use assumptions as shortcuts to solve a problem. When we do make them, we don’t get to see the full picture, and therefore, we don’t create a meaningful connection.
Another reason why we need to stop making assumptions is because the majority of the assumptions that we make are negative ones. Instead of seeing the person for who they are, you see them as unintelligent, as somebody whose life is completely messed up, or somebody who is so far behind in something that it makes no sense for them to even try.
This isn’t how you show more empathy to others. Let go of your assumptions, put yourself in their shoes, and treat others the way you would want to be treated.
5. Don’t be scared to ask questions.
To really get to know somebody and create a meaningful connection with them, don’t be scared to ask questions. The more questions you ask, the better you get to know somebody. Not only do you get insight into their thoughts, but it also shows them that you care and they will have an easier time opening up to you.
This doesn’t mean that you need to integrate them or treat a conversation like an interview. Find the desire to get to know somebody, ask them to expand on their thoughts if you don’t understand, and imagine how their experiences may impact your life if you were going through similar ones.
6. Treat people as if they are the most important person.
This is probably the best way you can show more empathy to others. All you need to do is to simply treat others the way that you would want to be treated. Give them the attention that you would want others to give you.
Reflect on a time when you were in their shoes and do something that you wish others would have done for you to help you. Be an ear for others and help them to solve any problems that they might be facing. Above all, just listen, be present, and treat others as if they are the most important person. Connect with them and try to feel what they are feeling.
The more empathetic we are, the better we will be able to connect with those around us and the stronger our relationships will be.
Practice these skills often. When you show more empathy to others and become interested in what others think, feel, and experience, you’ll develop a reputation for being caring, trustworthy and approachable. These are all traits that separate the average person from a truly remarkable one.