The world would totally fall apart if we didn’t give a damn about one another.
Empathy comes down to our ability to understand and share the feelings of those around us. We need this altruistic trait in order to cooperate and create successful relationships.
Whilst it might be in part down to genetics, it’s also something that we cultivate through conscious effort and practice.
That’s why some people seem to be totally rockstars when it comes to empathizing.
Here are habits that you often find people with exceptionally high levels of empathy are nailing…
1) They are good at managing their stress levels
At first, this may seem like it has very little to do with empathy.
But research has shown that when we’re highly stressed it can block our ability to empathize with others.
We get too caught up in our own feelings to concern ourselves with someone else.
If you are anything like me, you can probably think of plenty of occasions when your anger or frustration has gotten in the way of seeing someone else’s side.
Unfortunately, life can present plenty of irritations that get us worked up.
That’s why having effective tools and methods for dealing with our stress can make all the difference.
Maybe it’s a meditation practice, breathing exercises, playing relaxing music, engaging in mindfulness, improving positive self-talk, or one of the many other scientifically proven stress busters.
Chances are, if someone has very high levels of empathy, they’re skilled at handling stress better in their life than most people.
2) They listen on a deeper level
It sounds obvious when you say it:
To understand someone, we have to be prepared to listen to them.
As highlighted in Psychology Today 96 percent of people think they are good listeners. But the research shows that people only retain about half of what others say.
Meaning our listening often falls short without us even realizing it.
Active listening goes beyond just keeping quiet until it’s your turn to talk (something I suspect we’ve all been guilty of before!).
As the name suggests, it’s about participating in a conversation, even when you’re not the one speaking.
- Fully engaging with the speaker
- Paying attention to their words, tone, and body language
- Not interrupting
- Refraining from making judgments (more on this soon!)
- Offering up non-verbal cues to show you’re listening like nodding, maintaining eye contact, etc.
When we see active listening taking place, it tells us something important:
That person is showing a desire to understand other people’s emotions and experiences.
3) They ask thoughtful questions
Curiosity helps motivate empathy.
When we are genuinely interested in people we want to get to know them better.
Just this desire is often enough to promote behaviors that help us do just that, and in the process, we understand them better.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of curiosity is simply asking lots of questions.
Rather than assume what someone thinks or how they feel, people with high empathy levels tend to ask.
Their questions help to bring the conversation back around to the other person.
That’s significant because people with high empathy don’t hog the limelight, as we’ll see next.
4) They don’t make everything about them
We’ve all had those one-sided conversations.
The other person loves the sound of their own voice and takes very little interest in you. It’s all “Me, me, me”.
Empathy is about being able to relate to others. But the tricky part is doing so without turning things around and making it all about you again.
People who do empathy well can tap into the experiences of others without taking over.
They make it into a collaborative thing, and so think more in terms of “we” or “us”, rather than “I” or “me”.
This means that even though they tap into their own emotions and experiences to help them understand someone else, they don’t automatically share their feelings or personal story.
They know when to keep quiet and keep the focus on the other person’s experiences. This takes bags of awareness.
5) They are vulnerable enough to open up to their emotions
Strong emotional awareness is a real-life skill that helps in so many contexts, empathy included.
As author Sara Wachter-Boettcher astutely points out:
“(Distance) protects you from your own emotions, sure. But it also makes it impossible to feel anyone else’s.”
We can’t tap into anyone else’s feelings until we are prepared to get to grips with emotions in general, that includes our own.
The more we seek to understand the way we feel the greater our emotional awareness becomes.
Emotional intelligence takes emotional awareness one stage further. It allows us to get to know ourselves and others on another level.
We get better at regulating the way we feel, but also better at recognizing our own and other people’s emotions.
As we’ll see next, that often means reading the room.
Communication is far from straightforward.
There’s what we say and what we mean, and the two don’t always match up.
On top of that, a lot of the messages we send to one another are non-verbal.
Things like the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language when someone is speaking all paint a picture.
Empathetic people are on high alert to read between the lines. This means they get a feel for others’ moods more easily.
Tapping into this helps them behave appropriately in social settings rather than saying or doing the wrong thing.
They can mirror the energy they are picking up on, and tailor their own behavior based on what’s needed in the moment.
7) They don’t judge others
First impressions often happen in an instant, but they can stick for a lifetime.
It’s so tempting to judge other people. But when we do so, we block our ability to empathize with them.
Developing a non-judgmental attitude demands that we ignore stereotypes and try to see the person underneath.
So how do highly empathetic people manage to do this?
- They strive to be open-minded
- They try to find common ground instead of focusing on our differences
They understand that everyone has their own unique experiences, beliefs, and values, which shape their perspectives and behavior.
It’s not always easy, but empathetic people refrain from passing judgment or making assumptions about others.
Ultimately, they seek to understand rather than criticize.
8) They have the patience of a Saint
Something remarkable happens when we accept that we’re all just human and no one is infallible…
As well as being less judgmental, you become more tolerant too.
People who have incredible amounts of patience usually have high empathy.
They use their understanding to cut people some slack or give them the benefit of the doubt.
This patience often means very empathic people show more compassion towards others when they’re struggling.
9) They engage in random acts of kindness and supportive gestures
We’re talking about far more than begrudgingly doing someone a favor every now and then.
It’s about showing consideration, compassion, and kindness on repeat.
Of course, that can show up in various ways.
But it often means they provide support, lend a helping hand, and show acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.
Let me give you an example.
My partner is the most empathic person I know, and it means he constantly puts others before himself.
Just yesterday he gave his friend one of our electric heaters because he had been struggling with the winter cold in his apartment.
Even though we also had a need for it, he felt his friend’s need was greater.
People with the highest levels of empathy also extend their compassion beyond their immediate circle, as they strive to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
It’s not just practical help either, sometimes it’s emotional support.
They are happy to provide a shoulder to cry on, offer up words of encouragement, or give some much-needed advice.
Essentially, these gestures of kindness create a safe space for others to express themselves and seek help.
10) They work hard to see your side of things and seek new perspectives
The most empathetic people take on different perspectives, allowing them to understand others’ viewpoints and experiences.
It’s a lot easier said than done.
It demands that we step outside our own frame of reference and try to see things from another person’s point of view.
In other words, putting oneself in someone else’s shoes.
Practicing this is a powerful habit that often demands using your imagination, especially when you’ve never been in that particular situation before.
You know someone has high empathy levels when they’re always able to picture themselves in another person’s situation and consider how it would feel.
Our empathy levels can expand
Some of us may be born more empathic, but it’s also a social skill.
That means certain habits, like the ones we’ve just outlined can help us to hone our powers of empathy.
Being more mindful of things like active listening, striving to be non-judgmental, and showing more kindness can help create greater empathy in our daily lives.
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