It’s quite ironic, isn’t it? We live in the age of social media, where everyone seems connected to everyone.
And yet it is more difficult than ever to actually form deep bonds.
Truly, building and maintaining relationships is far easier said than done. And I don’t know about you, but I think relationships is what defines our lives—our very humanity.
If I had to name skills that are the most important to develop, being able to build strong relationships and being empathetic would be the ones.
So, in this article, we’ll talk about the power of empathy: 12 ways to connect with others.
1) Be ready to give more than take
Solid relationships are built on a good balance between giving and taking. But the key to this is primarily focusing on the giving part and not taking.
Let me give you an idea. Let’s say you received some great market insight from a key industry person. Think of ways to help them too.
A customer wants you to connect them to a possible mentor? Make an effort.
Your partner always cooks you dinner? Take care of the dishes after.
When you both willingly, regularly, and selflessly give without expecting anything in return, an atmosphere of goodwill and trust is formed.
You’ll feel no need to “keep score” because you’re both getting your needs fulfilled. On top of being mutually beneficial, this makes the relationship emotionally healthy because it is devoid of resentment and toxic expectations.
It feels horrible when someone demands that you do something because they did something for you in the past, doesn’t it?
While you should try to “pay it back,” the key is to do it without any baggage and expectations.
This ensures that the relationship is emotionally healthy and mutually beneficial.
Of course, don’t let people take advantage of you. If they are not as giving to you as you are to them, then they are not worth being in a relationship with.
2) Find common ground
It’s no secret: the easiest way to connect with others is to find the things you are similar in.
It doesn’t really matter what exactly it is. Most people’s eyes and hearts will open up once they realize you have something in common with them.
Have a mutual friend? Grew up in the same neighborhood? Like the same sports team? Share the same passions and ambitions? Have the same opinion about that viral YouTube video everyone’s talking about?
This is already a lot to connect with somebody!
Your whole relationship doesn’t have to revolve around these commonalities, especially if they are on the more trivial side of things.
But it does serve as an opportunity to establish the base for further communication.
So make sure you listen as attentively as possible when talking with someone. That’s how you can spot what you two might have in common and, therefore–try to connect with that person.
3) Do something meaningful with others
If you don’t seem to have anything in common, then you can always build commonalities.
How? By sharing an experience!
It’s a sociological fact that people who pursue a shared goal or tackle the same challenges together will most likely develop a deep bond.
After all, not only are they spending time together—they’re spending it together meaningfully.
They work together, cooperate, and get to know each other on a deeper level.
This is one of the best, most concrete ways to build better relationships.
- Is the coworker you want to be closer friends with talking about this new restaurant in town? Invite them to have dinner there together.
- Does your partner have a new interest in yoga? Enroll in a class with them.
- Does your friend want to lose weight? Become gym buddies and hold each other accountable to work out at least three times a week.
By doing this, you’ll spend time with them all while signaling that you genuinely care about them and their interests.
And that’s empathetic.
Then with these new shared experiences, you’ll get even more opportunities to become closer.
It’s a wonderful snowball effect.
4) Be an open person
You can’t build better relationships if… well, you don’t establish them in the first place.
While knowing too many people can sometimes spread you out too thin, I think this is often a small price to pay for the benefits of a larger social network.
Meeting all kinds of people means learning about other perspectives and discovering new opportunities that you may not have had access to otherwise.
Maybe that person is the key to your next business partnership. Maybe they’ll introduce you to your future spouse. Who knows!
So it’s important to always have a warm, open demeanor toward everyone you encounter. Don’t shut people down too quickly, either.
First impressions are obviously important, but I’ll urge you to try giving more second chances to people.
I think it’ll prove worthy of your time and effort in the long run.
Taking note of those who you think are interesting is also a great way to build your network. And make sure to keep in touch too!
5) Don’t be afraid to open up!
Speaking of being open… don’t be afraid to be open up to people!
Of course, there is a time and place for this—but true intimacy necessitates vulnerability.
If you always put up walls around yourself, if you’re always stoic and perfect and impenetrable, people will never be able to know you for who you really are.
They might also keep their distance since they sense that you prefer to “not let anyone in.”
You need to be able to share things about yourself—both the good and the bad. And one of the best ways to encourage people to do this is to do this yourself first.
Because by opening up, you’re telling people that you trust them.
And you know what?
People are likelier to trust people who like and trust them first! That’s a proven psychological phenomenon.
Opening up yourself softens up the atmosphere, allowing the other party to lower their walls and open up too.
6) Adjust to their attachment styles
However, how you open up is also something to keep in mind.
Different people have different attachment styles and, therefore, different ways of seeing and approaching the relationship.
Often based on our childhood experiences, attachment styles often explain our behavioral patterns in adulthood.
Among others, our attachment style affects things like:
- How and how much we trust people;
- Our willingness to open up;
- How clingy or possessive we may be;
- How we handle conflict and tension;
- How we express affection and anger;
In order to build and maintain successful relationships, especially personal or romantic ones, you need to be aware of both your own and the other party’s attachment style.
Not doing so will make you misinterpret their actions. You might also do or say things that will make them feel unsafe in the relationship.
Some attachment styles, like avoidant or fearful styles, also make it harder for those people to connect with others. So you will need to put in extra effort if you have these styles or want to be closer to those who do.
7) Be sincere
Being vocal about your admiration and appreciation for someone can definitely put you on their good side. They’ll feel better about interacting with you, providing you with more opportunities to bond with them.
However, people are not dumb.
Most can sense if you’re being insincere or if you’re just trying to manipulate them. Insincere compliments will have the opposite effect, making people distrust or wary of you.
This is particularly a problem on social media, where we are left with nothing but words, emojis, and pictures.
We can’t gauge someone’s tone of voice or body language, so some people might misinterpret what you have to say. So even if you are sincere, you might not seem so.
You might be tempted to bombard people with compliments, but in my experience, less is more.
One sincere, unique compliment is far more effective than a dozen shallow and empty ones.
Thoughtful and deliberate compliments are unforgettable and will surely have an effect on the receiver.
8) Listen attentively
However, being sincere is not limited to what we say but also to how we listen.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it needs to be reiterated.
When you’re talking to someone, you need to give them your whole, undivided attention.
But not just that, you need to be sincerely listening to them too.
You may be listening attentively and intently, but what exactly are your intentions? Are you looking out for opportunities to insert your own opinions and experiences? Are you looking for ways to use the information you’re getting for your own benefit?
Or are you listening because you respect and empathize with the person? Because you’re truly interested in hearing them and making them feel heard? Because you want them to feel that you simply enjoy their company?
Oh, another crucial tip when it comes to being a good listener and conversationalist: maintain good eye contact!
Don’t stare at them, though!
9) Show that you care
By listening this way, you show them that you truly care.
After all, relationships are ultimately built on respect and empathy. If the other person doesn’t feel you care about them, why would they keep you in their life?
Trust me; no one wants to be friends or business partners with a cold, unfeeling robot. Be soft—be human!
If you have a tough time cultivating and expressing compassion and empathy, try these:
- Vividly imagine what it would feel like to be in their position;
- Analyze why they have the perspective that they do;
- Think about how much you’d appreciate it if they showed compassion and empathy to you;
- Journal how you feel about others;
- Get in the habit of meditating and practicing mindfulness;
- Try to act kindly to those around you—without expecting anything in return.
10) Forgive but don’t forget
And one of the most empathetic and compassionate things you can do in your life is to forgive those around you.
Forgiving means that you were able to see things from their perspective—even if their actions were inexcusably wrong. That, in my opinion, is one of the highest forms of empathy.
When you let grievances remain in your system, they’ll simmer and boil until they overflow. One day, you’ll burst. Even before that, it will negatively affect the aura you project to the world.
However, being forgiving doesn’t mean that you should just let people continue to abuse you.
In fact, if you’re emotionally mature enough to forgive, then that means you also have the will and foresight to enforce your personal boundaries.
After all, you need to be compassionate to yourself too.
11) Make time for them
We’re all busy in one way or another. It can be tough to find an opportunity to spend quality time with people throughout the daily grind.
But still, we all have the same 24 hours. If someone or something is truly important to you, then you’ll prioritize them. You’ll make time for them.
After all, forming relationships is one thing, but maintaining them is another battle altogether. Make sure to spend with the people you value or your relationships with them will be gone in no time too.
12) Work on yourself
Because the most important relationship you have is the one you have with yourself!
Read that again.
A lack of self-awareness is the ultimate pitfall.
You won’t know your strengths and weaknesses, so you won’t even know what to improve upon.
You’ll have a tough time understanding your emotions and behavior, making it hard for you to open up or practice empathy.
You might be with people that aren’t really meant for you because you don’t know what you need and want from a relationship.
Who would want to be involved with someone like that? Without self-awareness and overall maturity, you won’t be able to bring any kind of true value to other people.
If you feel that you’re lacking in such a way—and even if you don’t, because I believe this is useful to everyone—here are a few things you can do to cultivate self-awareness and facilitate self-improvement.
- Journal: Ask questions about yourself. How would I describe myself? What do I want out of relationships? How could I improve myself?
- Set concrete goals for yourself—whether it be about finances, fitness, or what have you;
- Travel alone;
- Do things outside your comfort zone;
- Read more;
These are only a few suggestions. There area lot of other things that can give you opportunities to better yourself in different ways.
The key takeaway: be open!
In more ways than one, be open!
- Have an open personality: be warm and friendly to everyone you meet. You never know if a great relationship is around the corner with this person;
- Have an open mind: even if you don’t agree with them, be open-minded when hearing about other people’s opinions. Listen to them attentively to see things from their viewpoint.
- Have an open heart: be compassionate and empathetic. Be kind to everyone—you never know what someone else is going through. Be willing to be vulnerable yourself.
- Have an open hand: be generous. Give as much as you can without expecting anything in return and without drying up yourself. And be generous to yourself too! You can’t pour from an empty cup.
To wrap things up
Whether it’s with friends, family, romantic partners, or coworkers, having good relationships is one of if not the most important factors to having success and happiness in life.
Because at the end of the day, as amazing as we are, we’re only human. We need to rely on one another. We can’t do everything alone.
While forming and maintaining relationships can be complicated and difficult, here’s the good thing: we all want great relationships.
As social beings, it’s hardwired into our brains as humans to seek connection with others. So rest assured that other people will want to connect with you too.
You just need to be open to it.