Empathy is understanding and connecting with the feelings of another person; trying and seeking to see things from their point of view. This connection helps create safe spaces that facilitate meaningful and transformative conversations.
In a talk given by Brene Brown, known for her expertise on the power of vulnerability, storytelling and putting oneself out there, she shares that “our connection to other people is what gives purpose and meaning to lives”. Her research shows that the reason some people are more connected to others and are able to empathize is because they have a sense of worthiness. This means that they have a strong sense of love and belonging and they believe they are worthy of being loved.
Feelings, emotions and the intangible human experience of connection and sharing are hard to measure. So how do we know we are growing in empathy and do we know we are influencing someone positively? Being empathetic is such a vulnerable act. In order for a person to connect with someone and empathize with them, they first have to connect with their inner self and find that experience or feeling which reflects that of the other. You can exercises empathy even when something another person is experiencing feels foreign to you. You don’t need to understand or have experienced in order to empathize. Simply saying something like “I am so sorry you are experiencing this – what can I do to help?” often make others feel loved and appreciated. Trust that those receiving your empathy will discern your pure motives and will be impacted by it.
Empathy is such a powerful capacity, because it is an expression and manifestation of our interconnectedness. And the remarkable thing is that the more you know yourself, the more empathetic you can be with others. Maybe this is because knowing yourself implies knowing your own imperfections, weaknesses and faults, accepting those and recognizing the same in others. When you get a grip of your own life, you can engage authentically with others. Your own questions become relevant and meaningful to others, your personal improvement can inspire that of others.
So what might be some ways to work on and grow your sense of empathy?
I believe that finding opportunities to travel, to live or work in multicultural environments exposes people to the differences between people, which heightens their awareness of self and others. Seeing the positive and negative aspects of others’ personalities and culture helps you understand why people say the things they say or do the things they do. And once you understand, you can appreciate, once you appreciate you relate, once you relate, you empathize.
Another way to increase your empathy is by simply talking to people. Humans are a unique species when it comes to their ability to communicate. Go beyond small talk – engage deeply, actively ask people what they think, feel or how they would address a certain situation. Observe your motives when you talk to people. Put them, not you at the center, strive to truly understand and hear what is being shared. The person talking to you will feel the truth of your intention and this will define how open they will be to connect.
Lastly, actively work on increasing your emotional intelligence. This means that you have to manage your disruptive negative feelings so they do not influence you in a limiting way; when you are feeling down, try to motivate yourself towards positivity because this impacts your view of others, how you hear and respond to them. Socialize more!