5 Simple Ways To Practice Empathy (And 2 Hard Ones)

Aug 06, 2022

5 Simple Ways to Practice Empathy (And 2 Hard Ones)

(Photo by Alex Green)

Think about the last time you felt empathy for someone else. Do you remember what triggered the emotions, or how you expressed them?

Using the methods below can provide you with insight and a different perspective when it comes to judging others. It can also help you respond to these individuals in the best way possible.

Some simple (but not necessarily easy) ways

1 - Seek first to understand 

Many times empathy involves listening to others and asking questions. One of the most effective ways of becoming empathetic is to hear another person's story. Or to listen to them talk about their experiences. Listening helps you understand how other people think, feel, and live. It also helps you become more aware of your environment.

It’s common to feel like others don’t understand us - personally or professionally. But have you ever tried to see a situation from a different perspective, or from the point of view of a person you tend to clash with?

We all want to be understood. Therefore, we should all try to extend that courtesy to others. 

2 - Be Social 

Humans need social interaction. When we don't get it and are unable to emotionally or physically connect with others, we suffer. It affects us mentally, socially, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.  

You don't have to be a social butterfly out of the gate. You can take small steps, like calling a friend and asking them out for coffee. If that goes well, you can make a standing weekly or monthly "date" with each other. These hangouts can provide you with a much needed outlet to express your concerns, happiness, disappointments, etc. Making time for you and a friend to talk and work through issues shows how much you care about each other.

3 - Reflect on your relationships

Think about a relationship that has been stressing you out or that has deteriorated. What do you think is causing the stress? Start by being honest with yourself and the part you played in the decline of your friendship or relationship. It takes two to develop a relationship and it takes two to destroy it, so think about your role in the situation. Be honest with yourself. Don't sugarcoat your part in the breakdown.  

Try to look at the situation from the other person's perspective. Imagine that you are the other person and write down how you think they feel or felt at the time. For instance, how would you feel if you were them? What do you think is their perception about the event(s)? What do you think could be happening in the other person's life? Maybe, they’re dealing with a sick spouse, parent, or child. Or, perhaps, they’re dealing with a chronic illness or financial distress. 

Just remember that you never know what someone else is dealing with.

4 - Get healthy sleep

You can't be fully empathetic if you're tired.[217] When you're mentally, emotionally, or physically exhausted, you're more antsy and irritable towards others. It's easier to anger, frustrate, and annoy you when you're running on an empty tank.

At that point, it's almost impossible for you to be empathetic towards others. Your mind becomes fixated on your own needs, such as rest or personal time. Because of that you really don't have the energy to think about the needs of others.  That's totally normal and understandable. 

However, when you get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night, you awaken refreshed. You'll be better able to take on challenges that arise throughout the day. And you’ll have more mental, emotional and physical energy to think about and help others.

5 - Stress management

When we feel cornered or stressed our bodies produce excess amounts of adrenaline. This is the hormone responsible for our fight or flight reaction during times of actual or perceived danger. This hormone causes us to "lash out" at people, verbally and even physically. This reaction can cause a significant amount of damage to a relationship.  

Try stepping away from the stressful situation for a minute or so, if possible. Try box-breathing, listening to music, or writing about your feelings. Schedule time in your week to de-stress by doing things like practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Whatever you do, do your best to keep a positive attitude and focus on the things you can change.

Now, onto the hard ones

6 - Moving forward 

You cannot reach your full potential if you're holding onto anger, pain, and resentment. It's important to forgive yourself for any pain you've experienced throughout the years. To really think about how you could forgive yourself and others (if possible) for past transgressions. 

It doesn't have to be major things. Start with smaller "transgressions" and work up towards heavier ones. Keep going, over time, until you feel free from past hurts. And sometimes the forgiveness isn’t as important as the moving forward. As long as you feel no harsh or hurtful feelings about the person or the situation, you can move forward without having to necessarily forgive.

This can be a long process; it isn't easy to focus on painful memories. But releasing yourself of the burden that you have been carrying around can have incredible benefits.[131] [139]

For more info on improving relationships with empathy, click here.

7 - Find common ground with someone that you disagree with

We all have biases. No one is immune, even if we tell ourselves we are. One of the best ways to foster empathy is to examine your biases and challenge yourself to be better. How? By intentionally making an effort to meet new people. To explore the similarities and differences between all of us.

There are benefits to getting out of our usual environments. You can learn more about people who are in some way different than you. When we understand something better, we can be more empathetic towards it. It's only when we don't understand, or are confused about something, that we fear or dislike it. That's when biases form. 

Try not to judge others until you have gotten to know them. You've probably heard it before: treat others like you would like to be treated. Is it easy to negate or ignore biases? Absolutely not, but it is definitely possible. It will take effort and repetition. 

Empathy may be hard, but it’s worth it

Being empathetic is one of the most valuable skills you will learn in life. For some, this trait is innate, but for others, it takes commitment and practice to master it. If you're seeking to become more empathetic, the key is trying to look at the situation from the other person's perspective. It's not always easy to be empathetic towards someone else, especially if that person has been unkind or uncaring to you. But it is a helpful and necessary skill.

It takes time and practice. But it will help you become more in-tune with yourself, others, and the world around you. 

Continue Your Journey