Personal Growth

These Are the 6 Habits of Empathetic People

How empathetic are you? Empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is one of the most important skills there is when it comes to relating to the people around you. To develop this essential sense, it might be helpful to examine the habits that unite highly empathetic people. And once you've done that, you can start figuring out which practices can boost your empathy quotient.

Habitual Empathy

Writing for Greater Good Magazine, social philosopher Roman Krznaric (author of "Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It") outlined six habits shared among people with a high degree of empathy. We picked out a few of his most relatable suggestions and backed them up with extra research.

  • They're curious. Obviously, this is a trait that's close to our hearts. Specifically, it's curiosity about strangers that boosts your empathy skills. If you find yourself wondering about the lives of people on the train, you're already on the way toward cultivating a better sense of empathy. Cognitive-behavioral therapists have already identified the relationship between empathy and curiosity, and some forms of therapy help inspire more of that interpersonal questioning.

  • They listen well. It's not just a matter of hearing the other person and registering the facts of what they're saying. It's also about understanding their emotional state and imagining what they want or need to hear. According to the conflict psychology project Beyond Intractability, empathic listening requires one to be willing to let the other person dominate the conversation, to react non-judgmentally, and to gather more information with open-ended questions, as opposed to leading ones.
  • They open up. Responding to another person's pain with a story about yourself is not a very empathetic thing to do. But displaying vulnerability and a willingness to open up is. If somebody trusts you enough to share their own fears and traumas, then you can strengthen that bond by reciprocating. Make yourself vulnerable and you'll make yourself more trustworthy. Plus, you can't be empathetic toward other people's emotions if you aren't vulnerable enough to recognize your own.

Practice Makes Perfect

If empathy isn't your strong suit, never fear — there are ways to practice putting yourself in another person's shoes (or at least faking it until you can). Try these simple fixes to get your EQ back on track.

  • Communicate with care. The way you ask a question can convey a lot, even if you don't mean it to. Here's one trick to keep in your back pocket: Instead of asking "why" questions, ask "what," "how," "when," or "where" questions. "Why didn't you go to school yesterday?" sounds a lot more judgmental than "How were you feeling yesterday?" Think of the best way to frame your question before you ask it.
  • Be okay with silence. There's a time to listen, a time to talk, and a time to be comfortable with neither. It's clear from conflict management research that making space for silence is a surprisingly effective tool for building connections, even when people are communicating via pre-recorded video.
  • Paraphrase and summarize. If you're trying to convey that you're hearing another person's pain and feeling their emotions with them, there might be nothing more effective than this tool. Show your support by trying to capture what they're telling you in a nutshell. It not only shows that you've been paying attention and thinking about what they've said, but it also might give that person a useful new framework through which to view their problem. Just make sure you aren't overwhelming them with solutions when all they need is support.

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Empathy is one of the most important skills a human being can develop, and Roman Krznaric explains why in "Empathy: Why It Matters, How to Get It" (free with a trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 25, 2018

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