All the way from Oprah’s couch to the offices of Facebook who have their very own ‘Empathy Lab’, empathy is a hot topic both in and out of the workplace. But what exactly does it mean to be empathetic? Empathy is perhaps best defined as the ability to identify, understand and share in the feelings or perspectives of another person. Not to be mistaken with pity, which inevitably assumes a sense of superiority, empathy itself is inherently non-judging. To become truly empathetic we must cultivate the ability to step down and meet somewhere wherever they’re at. As acclaimed poet Walt Whitman once said, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person”.
Why become more empathetic?
Besides the fact that harnessing greater empathy has very real benefits for those around us, its effects stretch much further than our immediate circle. Empathy has been shown to improve relationships, boost performance in the workplace, and even benefit the environment at large. What’s more, it’s actually good for us. Endless research has demonstrated that we are essentially social creatures who have naturally evolved to care for one another. In fact, you could say that in not being empathetic, we go against our very human nature.
The good news is empathy comes naturally to all of us, which means that all we normally need is a gentle nudge in the right direction. We’ve pulled together some of our own personal tips on how to be empathetic in your everyday life:
1. Be curious
As children, we’re all naturally inquisitive as we experience and see the world through fresh eyes. Sadly, as we grow older the monotony of routine can end up drumming this out of us. At the very heart of empathy lies a sense of curiosity – to both people and also the situations around us. Whether it’s that old lady who sits next to you on the bus every day or the nervy teenage postman who delivers your letters in the morning, make the effort to talk to people you wouldn’t normally.
2. Listen (really listen)
A good listener is someone who provides us with undivided attention. Take the time to really listen to what someone’s telling you and try and sense the emotion behind the words. Very often when we’re given the space to talk something through we find the solution ourselves and a response isn’t even necessary.
3. Speak from your heart
Sadly, just being a good listener doesn’t cut the mustard – empathy is a two-way street. To deepen a bond and truly connect we need to open up to another person and be prepared to share our own vulnerabilities.
4. Face your prejudices
Whether we want to admit it or not we’ve all been guilty of putting labels on people. Being truly empathetic is about seeking commonalities, not differences. Volunteering provides a great way to push our boundaries and connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in everyday life.
5. Embrace the touchy-feely
Next time a friend opens up to you, follow your instinct to reach out and give them a big bear hug! Research has shown that physical contact boosts oxytocin levels improving mood, lowering blood pressure and stress and even speeding up our body’s own healing mechanisms. In other words, spread the love!
6. Practice loving-kindness meditation
Put simply, loving-kindness meditation involves directing well-wishes to the people around us, both friends and strangers. Recent research has shown that regular practice of this simple meditation not only teaches us how to be kind, but also has profound effects on the part of the brain responsible for empathy and emotional intelligence.
From 21st – 31st March we’re donating £1 to Help Refugees everytime a Yogaia member joins a LIVE class! It’s all in support of Help Refugees’ powerful CHOOSE LOVE campaign, raising much-needed funds and awareness for the millions of people caught in the refugee crisis.
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