5 Steps For Greater Empathy

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Dog and Cat being briendsEmpathy involves the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. In other words, you are not considering their viewpoints from your own perspective, but seeing a situation from that person’s position.

The establishment and maintenance of empathy is an important ingredient in having good rapport with another person, helping others, and understanding how people think the ways that they do. Here are some tips for using empathy helpfully:

Place aside your own point of view; see situations from the other person's perspective
In doing this, it soon becomes clear that people are usually not being hateful, unreasonable, mean-spirited or plain wrong.  They are probably just reacting to the situation with the experiences they have, just as you do.

Respond to the other person's point of view
Once you can see why the other person believes what they do, then you can acknowledge this. You do not need to agree with what has been said. Just accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have understandable reasons for their views.

Actively listen
Pay attention to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate.

  • Consider carefully what is being said and the tone of expression.
  • Be aware of non verbal communication – what the person is indicating non-verbally while speaking.
  • Feelings expressed
  • Show that you are concentrating well by attending to your own body language, showing that you are fully present in this exchange. Facing the person, with a gentle lean forward, occasional nods or minimal responses, and the maintenace of soft eye contact sends important messages.

Explore your own views.
Ask yourself  if you are more motivated to win, get your own way, or be right. In contrast, you may want to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others’ attitudes. Empathy requires an open mind.

Enable the examination of options
When you have shown that you have truly listened to the person, you may ask them to consider what options lie ahead.  It is important that the person takes ownership of the decisions made. This is empwering and promotes self-reliance. Passively taking your advice would be disempowering and reinforce inadequacy.

Practising these skills on a daily basis brings huge benefits. Surprisingly, we often do not  actively listen to our family and friends. This is often because we are busy doing lots of things at once rather than communicating in a focused way. It is great skill to be open to see the world from perspectives other than your own and this skill can be used habitually for its best effects. When you validate and show appreciation of others’ viewpoints, they will probably want to understand you and this is how you can start to build cooperation and mutual understanding.

The development of empathy is one of the skills useful for people in helping roles. The Academy for Distances Learning provides a number of courses associated with Counselling Skills and Psychology.

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