As we say goodbye to an eventful 2016, let us ring in the New Year with this uplifting fact: humans are hardwired to practice empathy. Most people would agree that empathy is in the same category as kindness and respect, but as it turns out, empathy doesn’t just mean to “treat others the way you want to be treated,” AKA that Golden Rule we all learned in elementary school. To be empathetic requires us to see another person’s perspective and realize that they have different needs than us. The action requires an understanding of someone’s feelings and letting that understanding determine how we treat them. By embracing the following five habits of highly empathetic people, anyone can turn this behavior into a habit.
1. WALK A FEW MILES IN THEIR SHOES
Highly empathetic people routinely put themselves in other people’s shoes. Volunteering for a good cause is one great way to see other perspectives and broaden our horizon. Lending a hand provides the opportunity to interact with people we may not come across on a daily basis and opens us up to various viewpoints.
2. LISTEN UP
You know what highly empathetic people also routinely do? Practice active listening. In order to have a true understanding of other people’s feelings, we must be present in the moment and resist the urge to make assumptions or judge certain situations. Once we’ve really digested what they’re saying, it’s our turn to open up and show some vulnerability.
3. SHOW AN INTEREST
Demonstrating an interest in others is also a great way to practice empathy. Oftentimes, curiosity about others leads to compassion as we’re focused on someone else. Asking thoughtful questions (and active listening!) is a great way to show genuine interest and learn something new along the way.
4. FOCUS ON COMMONALITIES
Highly empathetic people focus on what they have in common with people rather than their differences, to challenge their preconceived notions and overcome prejudices. No matter how different other people might seem at first, we’re bound to have at least something in common with almost anyone.
5. TREAT OTHERS WITH KINDNESS
Treating everyone as though they’re valuable and important in their own way (because they are), allows highly empathetic people to avoid stereotyping. It’s important to focus on positive traits instead of flaws and remember that nobody is superior to anyone. When we treat others with kindness and see the good in a person, we’re able to better relate to them, which makes it a whole lot easier to empathize.