Good news! Typically, if you are a generally stable person, your empathy has been increasing as you have grown older.
If you reflect on your life, you will probably realize that your experiences, whether in “real life” or in reading about others, of new situations and of people who are different than you—in age, in gender, in skin color, in ability, in sexual orientation, in religious beliefs, in nationality—have increased your store of empathy.
Once you can put an individual human face on one of these “differences,” your empathy expands. And so does your ability to be compassionate.
But there is more you can actually choose to do, actions you can take to increase your empathy, compassion and the ability to connect with anyone you interact with daily. Here is a brief list of possibilities:
- Make a habit of expressing your appreciation of others every day
- Ask yourself, “What is this person feeling?” especially in those sticky situations
- Be true to your promises to others
- Become aware of the impact you have on others (keep a log)
- Identify and support a project that provides service to others who are in need
- Learn to listen by reflecting thoughts and feelings back to others
- Read widely to include perspectives of others who live or have lived lives very different from yours
- Ask gentle questions: What can I do for you? What do you need?
- Become an observer of how people express their feelings—including body language and other non-verbal communication
- Build a work culture that is emotionally safe and friendly
- Ask for feedback about your behavior, decisions, and words (perhaps through a 360 degree feedback instrument)
- Attempt to see a tough situation from another’s perspective
- Develop a sincere interest in other people by asking yourself what they have to teach you
- Be willing to share your passions and interests with others
What step might you be willing to take to increase your empathy?
(Excerpted from Emotional Intelligence for a Compassionate World: Workbook for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence Skills by Barbara A. Kerr, Ph.D. available in paperback or Kindle editions on amazon.com)