5 WAYS TO DEVELOP YOUR EMPATHY
Last week I said that the world need leaders with empathy. It’s true.
However, since then I’ve had this terrible feeling that it’s the most pointless article I’ve ever written.
“Go out there and be empathic”
“Show some empathy please!”
“Get more empathy”
I’ve also read so many pieces of content like this, and the thing is they’re right too! The world needs empathy! In fact, I’d go as far as to say that any breakdown in human understanding or connection can be attributed to a lack of empathy. But that’s not the point here – the point is it’s hard.
There isn’t an empathy pill.
Empathy doesn’t grow on trees.
So how do you become more empathic? Literally, how can you increase the amount of empathy that you have to give and how often you give it?
The truth is, I’m not an expert. However, I can tell you 5 things that I do to try to become more empathic day by day.
Hopefully they work for you too.
#1 – TRAVEL
I’m very lucky. I have clients all over the world, and have the opportunity to visit them regularly. In the last year, I’ve worked in Brazil, Thailand, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands and France. Every time I visit a place, I try to get as involved as possible in the local culture, by visiting local restaurants, bars and shops. I look for recommendations from locals, and try to speak to as many as possible. Experiencing different places and cultures is a fantastic was to enhance your empathy, because you start to broaden your perspective on other people’s lives and ways of viewing the world.
Now, I understand not everyone can travel with work, however, everyone can travel. So – if you want to increase your empathy levels – the next time you look to book that holiday, think new and think unexpected. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, and when you’re there, really get involved in the local culture. If you’re happy with how empathic you are already, the Marbs is great and you can probably stop reading here.
#2 – CONNECT
Connecting with other people is a huge part of becoming more empathic. Every day you have a chance to connect with people. This can be people you know well, or strangers. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you have to push yourself to have an in-depth conversation with every check-out assistant you meet, or every time you find yourself in a lift with someone. However, there will be occasions when you find yourself in a conversation with someone. Use these occasions to find out more about them – and not just what music they like, and where they grew up. Find out about their passions, their views, their attitudes, their perspectives – find out about what inspires them. These are the conversations that people remember, and these are the conversations that will drive your empathy.
#3 – DISCONNECT
Then you need to do the opposite. Isolate yourself. And I mean from everything not just everyone. This means cutting yourself off from your laptop, your tablet and… yes… your phone.
I’ll be honest. I’m extremely bad at this – it’s one of my biggest points of improvement that I’ve highlighted for myself. Regularly, I find myself staring at my phone for no particular reason, with no memory of why I even picked it up, and I’m sure I’m not alone here.
There are ways around this.
Go for walks, and leave your phone at home.
Try to meditate for short periods of time.
Or, if you’re very disciplined, put in place a screen curfew. No screens after 9pm!
However you do it is down to you, but it helps. Time away from constant distraction gives you an opportunity to think and space to take in a wider perspective, which ultimately is what empathy is all about.
#4 - READ
All the smartest people that I’ve ever met are avid readers. They read books about things that interest them, but also about things they need to know for their profession or their industry. By the side of my bed are a stack of books, and each night I’ll read from at least 1 of them. I do it because I love to learn, but I also find it a great way to switch off before going to sleep.
However, more relevantly, reading will increase your empathy because it will expose you to the perspectives of the author, the people’s stories in the books and the characters. I should point out here, I’m not just talking about pop-science and self-help books. Fiction is just as effective, if not more so, in increasing your empathy levels.
I know reading isn’t for everyone, but actually that’s no excuse. Today there are hundreds of ways to consume books and content. Audio books and podcasts are a great alternative too. The point here is there are thousands of best-selling books out there because what is inside those pages is valuable! Get reading, and start expanding your perspective.
Leave room in your life for some reflection. There are many ways to do this.
Some people meditate.
Some people express gratitude every morning.
Some people have wholesome debates with their partners on a regular basis.
However, you do it, leave room for reflection.
Maybe a better – and more direct – way to say this is question everything. Never accept anything just because that’s the way it is. If people hadn’t regularly questioned the status quo, then society would never have progressed.
Regularly reflecting on things that interest you, and why they work in a certain way will open your mind to different possibilities and ideas – this is a great way to expand your empathic mind.
The truth is, I can’t tell you how to be more empathic. It seems even trying to tell anyone how to be more empathic is almost contradictory. However, these 5 things help me, and I feel more empathic this year than I did last, and hope to feel more so again next year.
There’s one thing I know for certain.
This is not a perfect world, and it won’t ever be in my lifetime.
However, the more empathy expressed every day, the closer we may get. It doesn’t take much to become more empathic, but it does require consistency and a genuine commitment.
P.s. If you are interested in this, and genuinely do want to be more empathic, read Roman Krznaric’s book “Empathy”. He is the expert on this subject, not me.