7 Practical Tips for Increasing Empathy

We have something in common with rats that may surprise you. Those scurrying little (sometimes large) rodents ruling garbage cans across the world are actually capable of empathy, just like humans.

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So how do we exercise and strengthen our empathy muscle? Here are seven practical tips for increasing empathy.

1. Listen and don’t interrupt.

Truly listening can be a challenge. Sometimes we are just waiting to give our own opinion. Read here for tips on improving your listening skills.

2. Be fully present when you are with people and tune in to non-verbal communication.

You can start being fully present by putting away your phone, not checking your email, and not accepting calls while you are interacting with someone. A study by Professor Emeritus, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, reports that the things we say account for only 7% of what we are trying to communicate. “The other 93% of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language.” If all you’re doing while you speak with someone is listening to what they are saying while you scroll through your upcoming appointments, you’ll miss the bulk of what is being communicated.

3. Smile at people.

Smiles are literally contagious. The part of your brain responsible for this facial expression is the cingulate cortex, which is an unconscious automatic response area. Since smiling releases feel good chemicals in the brain, activates reward centers, and increases health, you’ll truly be doing yourself and your colleague a favor when you show those pearly whites.

4. Use people’s names and encourage them.

Encouraging people can be as simple as nodding at them while they talk in a meeting. This simple gesture, along with using their name, can make great impact on relationship building.

5. Try to empathize with people whose beliefs you don’t share.

This tip might particularly come in handy during election year! One good way to approach differing beliefs in conversation is to say, “That’s interesting, how did you develop that idea?” or “Tell me more.”

6. Give genuine recognition.

Move beyond “great job” and give specific compliments like, “Your research on this difficult topic is thorough” or “Thank you. I would have missed that information if you hadn’t pointed it out.”

7. Challenge yourself to have a deeper conversation with a colleague.

Understanding a person’s point of view or personal challenges requires conversation that moves past the weather. This doesn’t mean you should ask your colleague about highly personal matters. Start by sharing a little more of your own experiences and perspectives and see if your colleague follows suit.

Tip number seven is what I want you to do this week. It’s an excellent way to jump in the waters of improving empathy. While you speak to this person, think about using their name, smiling, encouraging them, listening, without interrupting. This singular conversation won’t just be practice; it will lay the foundation for a better working relationship with your colleague. You also might enjoy yourself!