5 Ways to Practice More Empathy
"There's nothing intimate about disclosing facts. Intimacy starts when you disclose how you feel about those facts." An "Intimacy Booster" from the book The Complete Idiots Guide to Intimacy
Empathy is an important part of building and sustaining closeness and intimacy. Here are five ways to practice better Empathy skills.
Don't make a person say or pronounce something right/correctly
Give a speaker room to say the wrong thing or use the wrong words when they are talking or sharing
The talker shouldn't have to worry that every word he/she says is being scrutinized for fairness and precision. Revealing self, experiences and ideas that are authentic can be a sloppy process. If you need to clarify to understand, do so gently and then invite the person to keep going with their idea. If what you are hearing is confusing, ask questions with real curiosity to understand. Don't just pronounce, "this is confusing!" or "that makes no sense!" Ask questions to help you truly understand the other person's experience.
There really is no boring topic in life.
There is always a question to ask to liven it up—find just one!
If you tune out when someone is boring or when a friend or partner gets on their usual boring subject, you are likely hurting the relationship. Lack of attentiveness is very obvious to most people.
If a person shares something about a topic you know little about or really don't care to know about, be sure to ask questions to help you learn more. Keep the spotlight on the topic the person presented. If you aren't so quick to move on, you might find it more interesting and learn something all the while building up your attentiveness (an intimacy booster).
If you have ever been met with silence, glazed eyes, an abrupt change of subject, or a joke, you know how that feels—ignored or discounted.
Emotional and subjective words are treasure troves for showing empathy.
Sleuth out how someone feels or have them describe in fine detail what their experience was like to them.
While listening, scan for words that carry emotional weight. Make comments that show support for those emotions such as "That must have been hard...You must have pleased...What a wonderful experience... What a painful time...".
Always show support for a person who is discussing dreams and longings no matter how far fetched they seem to you.
This is an area that takes skill. It may be challenging to stay attentive when your experience and know how could rescue them from being naive or making a mistake. However, wait until they ask you to share your knowledge. When someone asks, it usually means they will actually be able to hear you. It also will prevent you from coming across as someone who thinks they are superior or one up.
If you just can't stand not to share, be sure to ask if they would like you to share. When you do share, keep it humble without shredding their ideas.
Remember that each human experiences life and emotions in a unique way.
You will have moments when you are in synch with others, but that may not happen a lot.
It's okay to have your own response and viewpoint. This often is evident when we are upset with a person and we discuss it with another person who doesn't seem to see how the other person is out of line or has hurt you. Their experience of the other person may be totally different then yours and so they truly have a difficult time responding in a supportive way.
Then also different people do get along differently.
Empathy can help you here. Find out how the other person experiences the person who you've had a negative experience by asking them about it. When they share, affirm them and their experience by saying something like "Oh, yes, you relate differently to ______". You don't have to feel badly or change what your experience is just because others don't have it.
This is empathy for the other person and yourself!
These 5 tips were largely adapted from the book The Complete Idiots Guide to Intimacy by Paul Coleman pg 107.