Empathy is the glue that binds us in meaningful relationships and communities. It’s what allows us to feel for others, to put ourselves in their shoes.
But what if you encounter someone who just doesn’t seem to get it?
We’ve all crossed paths with people who seem completely disconnected from understanding or sharing the feelings of others.
It’s perplexing, even painful, especially when these people are part of our daily lives.
Before making any judgments, let’s explore 8 behaviors that might indicate a lack of empathy. When we can spot these individuals better, it’s also easier to navigate interactions with them.
1) They ignore emotional cues
Imagine you’re at a gathering, and you’ve just shared something personal — maybe you’re going through a tough time at work or dealing with a family issue.
Instead of acknowledging your feelings, the person you’re talking to changes the subject to something irrelevant, like the weather or a TV show.
This is an example of ignoring emotional cues, and it’s a clear indicator that someone may lack empathy.
Emotional cues are those little signals — tone of voice, body language, or facial expressions — that show how someone is feeling.
These cues are crucial for meaningful conversations because they allow us to gauge the emotional state of others.
Ignoring them suggests an inability or unwillingness to connect on a deeper level.
When someone consistently overlooks these cues, they’re missing the whole point of empathy: to understand and share the feelings of another.
2) They lead self-centered conversations
We all know the type. You’re in the middle of talking about a pressing issue you’re facing, and before you know it, the conversation has swung back around to them — again.
Whether it’s their latest achievement, their weekend plans, or some vaguely related experience they had years ago, the conversation always seems to center on them.
A self-centered conversationalist isn’t necessarily a bad person, but this behavior is a red flag for a lack of empathy.
Because empathy involves understanding and sharing another person’s feelings. And when someone hijacks every conversation to make it about themselves, they’re essentially saying your feelings, thoughts, and experiences don’t matter — or at least, don’t matter as much as theirs.
This kind of conversational narcissism doesn’t leave room for empathy because the focus is never on understanding the other person.
Instead, the aim is to steer the spotlight back onto themselves, which makes genuine emotional connection difficult, if not impossible.
3) They make insensitive jokes or comments
You’ve surely been in a situation where someone made a joke or a comment that was clearly insensitive to someone’s feelings, experiences, or identity — maybe it was even directed to you.
Whether it’s making light of serious social issues, mocking personal struggles, or trivializing emotional experiences, these jokes or comments can be more than just awkward — they can be downright hurtful.
They’re also a glaring sign of a lack of empathy. When someone makes jokes at the expense of others, it shows a disregard for how those words could impact someone emotionally.
An empathetic person is careful with their words, always considering how they might be received by others. They strive to uplift, not tear down.
It’s important to note that humor can be a powerful tool for coping and connecting, but there’s a significant difference between shared laughter and laughter that alienates or belittles.
When jokes or comments are insensitive, they serve as a barrier to empathetic understanding, cutting off the opportunity for true emotional connection.
4) They avoid responsibility for mistakes
We’ve all made mistakes; it’s a natural part of being human. The problem is when someone sidesteps accountability for their errors.
Instead of owning up to a mistake, they might place the blame on someone else, offer excuses, or even completely deny that they did anything wrong.
For example, if they arrive late to an important event and it causes disruption, they might blame traffic, the event organizer, or even you for not reminding them, rather than admitting their own lack of punctuality.
Avoiding responsibility for mistakes is not just about dodging blame; it’s about failing to understand and acknowledge the impact of one’s actions on others, which is a critical aspect of empathy.
It reflects poorly on their character, of course — but most importantly, it damages the trust and morale of those around them.
And, they miss out on the chance to learn, to grow, and to make things right with the people they’ve affected.
5) They invalidate other people’s feelings
In the land of human connection, dismissing someone’s feelings is like cutting down the bridge that links two souls.
Imagine you’ve had a rough day, and when you try to share your feelings, the person you’re talking to waves it off with a “you’re overreacting” or “it’s not a big deal.”
It’s as if they’re dismissing a piece of your world, like saying that your emotional weather doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged. “Oh, it’s raining in your world? Well, it’s sunny in mine, so your rain doesn’t matter.”
Clearly, this shows a lack of empathy — because empathy is all about stepping into someone else’s shoes, feeling what they feel. If someone can’t even respect that you have shoes — i.e., your own feelings and perspectives — how can they walk a mile in them?
So, the next time you encounter someone who seems to make light of your worries or dismiss your joys, consider it a clue.
It might just mean they’re lacking in the empathy department, dwelling in a universe where only their emotional weather is worth noticing.
6) They’re competitive instead of compassionate
Competitiveness has its place — like in sports or certain work situations — but life isn’t a constant game to win.
Imagine you’re sharing a struggle you’re facing at work, and instead of offering support or advice, they counter with how much harder their job is.
Or perhaps you’re excited about a small win you had, and they immediately compare it to their own, often bigger, accomplishments.
How can they truly understand your feelings if they’re too busy turning your struggles into a scoreboard?
Empathy calls for compassion, not competition. When someone competes with you instead of supports you, they’re not investing emotionally in your experience. It’s a one-player game to them, where your role is merely to set up their next winning move.
In these situations, you’re not a co-star in a shared human experience; you’re a background character in their personal drama.
7) They’re not there to support you in tough times
Life’s hard moments are when you need people the most. Whether it’s a personal crisis, the loss of a job, or just a terrible, no-good, very bad day, these are the times when empathy shines the brightest.
Unfortunately, if someone is absent during your times of need, it’s a glaring sign that they lack this important quality.
Let’s say you’re going through a breakup. A truly empathetic friend would offer a listening ear, words of comfort, or even just silent companionship.
Someone lacking empathy, however, might dodge your calls, claim to be too busy to meet, or offer a curt “That’s tough” before quickly changing the subject.
This avoidance or emotional withdrawal isn’t just about not caring. To them, your pain might be a burden they’re not willing to share, or it may simply not register on their emotional radar at all.
In essence, empathy is not just about being there in good times, but also providing a shoulder to lean on during the bad times.
When someone shows they can’t do this, it reveals a significant gap in their ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
8) They refuse to change their viewpoint
Have you ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with someone, only to hit a brick wall when it comes to differing viewpoints?
Being rigid in one’s beliefs isn’t just about being stubborn; it can signal a lack of empathy.
Imagine discussing a social issue that you’re passionate about, like affordable healthcare or climate change. An empathetic person would listen to your arguments, consider the implications, and possibly even adjust their own stance based on the new perspective you offer.
On the contrary, someone devoid of empathy would dig their heels in, unwilling to even entertain the idea that another viewpoint could have merit.
This isn’t merely intellectual stubbornness; it’s an emotional deficit. The inability to consider another person’s viewpoint means they’re missing out on an essential aspect of empathy: cognitive empathy.
This form of empathy isn’t about feeling what you feel, but understanding why you feel the way you do. It’s about putting themselves in your shoes intellectually, not just emotionally.
The power of recognizing a lack of empathy
Knowing how to spot a lack of empathy in others, thanks to these 8 behaviors, can save you a lot of emotional strain.
While it’s not your job to fix people, understanding their limitations allows you to set healthy boundaries.
So if someone continuously exhibits these behaviors, consider it a signal to proceed with caution.
Empathy is a two-way street, and you deserve to interact with people who can meet you halfway.