Empathy is understanding someone else’s emotions or situation even if you haven't experienced it yourself. It's ‘putting yourself in their shoes’.
And there are 'levels’ of empathy – it’s not like you’ve got it or you don’t. Empathy helps us relate to other people and helps us understand how they see the world.
Relationships are all about people understanding and supporting each other, whether it’s your relationship with your partner, your mates, your family or co-workers. Empathy plays a huge part in ALL of our relationships.
Here are three TOP tips to train your empathy muscles
1. Ask questions
If you want to understand someone’s experience or circumstance, give one of these a go:
- 'What’s up?'
- 'How are you doing?'
- 'Tell me about what’s going on.'
2. Believe people
When someone tells you that they feel a certain way it is important to let them know you believe them. Often when someone says, “That’s really offensive” our first response is, “No it’s not…”. But for that person, with their life experiences (not yours) it is offensive and hurtful. So, try to make believing (rather than disbelieving or doubting) your ‘default’ when listening to someone open up about their experience or feelings. It might be as simple as just nodding every now and again as you listen, or offering an “Yeah, I totally hear you”.
3. Put yourself in their position.
If someone has a different gender, sexuality, race, age, education/employment status to you, imagine walking in their shoes in as many ways as you can.
Start asking how you would feel if you were them, rather than being you, hearing the same thing.
What're some examples?
What does the phrase 'Please board the plane using the rear steps' mean to you?
Now, what would it mean if you were wheelchair-bound?
How about, 'Australia Day celebrates the settlement of Australia'?
Try to imagine you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander hearing that, being told that nobody lived in Australia before white people arrived...
'You kick like a girl' sounds very different depending on your gender.
Without empathy we can be quick to judge other people harshly, and less likely to help everyone around us have a good time.
Without empathy it’s hard to have genuine respect for others and their opinions.
Empathy helps us all be that little bit nicer, little bit more patient and much less likely to be, well, a tosser.
So, practice those empathy skills!!