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We’re greatly influenced by our networks and relationships. In our relationship with others, we come across people with different backgrounds and beliefs and this can affect our behaviour towards them. In this article, I would be showing you 5 ways to develop more empathy for others.
What is Empathy?
Have you ever had a situation where you understand a person’s feelings or emotions as if they were yours? That is exactly what empathy is.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined empathy as “The action of understanding or being sensitive to the feelings, experience or thoughts of another person”.
Also, it is the ability to understand how a person feels, their perspective on things, and view their thoughts as though they were yours.
It is easier to understand how you feel than that of others. An empathic person is concerned about the well-being of others. When someone talks to you, your ability to relate with such a person speaks of how empathic you are.
Why is Empathy Important?
Empathy is necessary for developing and maintaining social cooperation. When you understand how others feel and can relate with them, you build a relationship that is conducive to the development of others and yours.
When you can put yourself in another person’s shoes, you’re able to understand their actions and respond accurately to their behaviour. It also makes you a better person to relate to and can improve your relationship with others.
As humans, we all have experiences and emotions that affect or shape our behaviour. Because of these experiences, we are sometimes limited by our own perspective and may not understand others. This can really affect our relationship with people around us.
However, when you use empathy to understand why a person acts or thinks the way they do, you might get a better understanding of how to respond to their actions.
While empathy can be inborn, it can also be learned. Here are 5 ways to develop empathy:
Ways to Develop Empathy
1. Listen to People
To develop empathy, you have to converse with people to recognize what they feel or think and pay attention to their thoughts.
It is no new knowledge that communication increases the bond between individuals. You can only get to know a person better when you talk to them rather than assume from afar.
When talking to a person, they usually give out information about their thought or feelings, and most times, we tend to overlook these subtle hints because we do not listen.
Over time, I’ve learned that people engage in conversation to talk rather than listen. Compare these conversations:
A: Hello B, how’re you doing?
B: I had a stressful day today and my headaches.
A: Omo, it’s not just you o. Work today was stressful and my head, my back ached. (Typical of Nigerians to turn a statement into a battle of tragedy)
X: Hello Y, how are you doing today?
Y: I had a stressful day at work and my headaches.
X: Oh dear. Do you want to talk about what’s stressing you?
Obviously, the second conversation shows X as being more empathic. Rather than compare their tragedies, X was concerned about the welfare of Y.
Cultivate the habit of listening to people before responding. People talk with emotions and sometimes your inability to perceive them can make you seem uncaring.
2. Examine Your Bias
One of the 5 ways to develop empathy is by examining one’s bias. Let’s be honest, we are all biased. It can be hidden or obvious, but we have at one time or the other, treated someone unfairly.
Examining your biasness is a great way to develop empathy. The irony of this is, sometimes we do not realize how bias we are until we have taken action.
The first step to overcoming your biases is by acknowledging them. Understanding that as humans, being biased is a natural part of our lives can help you decide steps to overcome it. Secondly, taking steps to work on your biases can help you develop more empathy towards people. Constantly questioning your character can help you overcome your biases. Judge the actions you take and how you respond to people to put yourself in check.
Listen to the feedback people give you. It can help you work on your character more.
3. Grow Your Curiosity
Honestly, I find it extremely difficult to socialize with people. I used to say “If God gives me basic social interaction skills, I’d be a superhuman”. Ironically, I have never regretted asking questions about people – it has only helped me develop socially.
Grow your curiosity about people, groups, cultures, and religions by asking questions and conversing with people from different cycles of life. It will help you stop judging people from your pre-conceived idea of them and build more empathy for them.
Sometimes, to understand how people feel, you have to understand where they are coming from. Your idea of who a person is can block you from developing a healthy relationship with that person.
Don’t stay in your comfort zone. Spend time with people. Ask questions about their knowledge, cultures, and interests.
Be open to exploring new places. The more you explore, the better your knowledge of people and the more empathic you become.
4. Reading Widely Can Help You Develop More Empathy
Oh! My favourite tip to developing more empathy is through reading – fiction, nonfiction, biographies, history, whatever it is that catches your interests.
Reading gives you a glimpse of the diversity of the different backgrounds and experiences people have. It increases your perspective on human interaction and can help you develop more empathy.
One book that has shaped my perspective is “The Joys of Motherhood” by Buchi Emecheta. It opened my eyes to the pains and sacrifices mothers go through for the sake of raising children. It helped me sympathize with African moms and made me love my mother so much more.
Reading books, journals, newsletters, and online content expands your perspective about people.
5. Associate With Others By Working on Projects Together
Working together on projects with people is one way to develop empathy for others.
When individuals work together on projects, it can help heal the differences and divisions shared between them and foster social cooperation.
This is why I admire the communal relationship among villages before the coming of the Europeans. Some sort of brotherhood existed among kinsmen where everyone worked on each other’s lands to help cultivate crops for the village’s benefit.
Today, there are various community projects you can work on to help develop communities. Most of these projects are sponsored by international organizations, non-governmental organizations and student organizations.
Whatever project you wish to work on, you’re taking a step towards developing empathy for others.
The above 5 ways to develop empathy cannot be overemphasized. Empathy can be developed like any other skill. Developing empathy is necessary for building healthy relationships and promoting cohesion among people.
The conversations you have with people can tell how empathic you are. Paying attention to the feelings of others and putting yourself in their shoes helps you see things from their perspective and gives you a better understanding.
Keep an open mind by working on your biases and reading books to give you a broader point of view of the diverse backgrounds and cultures we have in the world.
By the way, my favourite authors for starters are Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie. If you have favourites, let me know in the comment section.