9 Ways Empathy Improves Our Connections
I am a shy by nature
But I've learned a secret that's helped transcend timidity - focusing attention on the other person. Instead of obsessing about myself, I consciously concentrate on showing interest by listening. I practice tuning in with empathy. This one habit has been a life-changer. I'm still hard wired as an introvert, but learning to shift my absorption outward frees me from the limitations shyness tries to impose. At the end of this post I share nine specific ways you can use empathy to enrich your interactions and deepen conversations.
Awkward and self conscious
I spent my youth feeling self-conscious, uncomfortable, timid, and insecure. Like most personality traits, the roots of my awkwardness traces back to childhood experiences.
Embarrassed by a birth defect
At the age of 5 I had my right thumb amputated. A birth defect prevented the thumb bone's formation as well as muscle development. Doctors proposed severing the limp tissue, explaining to my parents that removing the 'awkward' appendage would prevent the dangling flesh from being accidentally caught or harmed.
A sad negative narrative
In those formative years, I attached a negative narrative to my unusual appearance and internalizing the doctor's assessment - I had an 'awkward' appearance. Because I had difficulty accepting myself, I believed others wouldn't accept me either.
Our common bonds
Thankfully, over time, I began changing my internal story and slowly re-writing my narrative. I woke up to the fact that all of us has some awkwardly perceived 'imperfection.' And everyone wants to be accepted, seen and heard in spite of them.
The secret to easy conversation
This was my 'Ah ha' moment. I began seeing magic happen when I focused my attention on the other person instead of worrying about myself. I could over-ride my insecurities. I could take the path leading to conversational ease instead of awkward silence.
Of course, volumes have been written about this, but, to me, it was new and powerful.
Because I learned the power of being other-centered instead of me-centered, I've been able to host art exhibitions, give artist talks and facilitate creative events successfully. The secret is offering empathy. Empathy enables me to be attuned to another's perspective or emotional state.
Empathy is a super power. It's definition explains why:
"Empathy- the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner."
“Empathy dissolves alienation.” –Carl Rogers
Here's a great little video from The School of Life about empathy and its magical relational powers.
Empathy is our bridge for greater connection.
What Is Empathic Listening?
When you listen with empathy you get to tune in to another's emotional frequency. You can get in touch with their needs and make them feel heard.
Empathic listening flings open a window to the other person's inner world. It creates a safe space where they feel they can share anything without having to worry about criticism.
When empathy is the bridge that brings two people together, words become less important. It proves that what matters most is the connection between them.
What Empathic Listening is NOT!
Being an empathetic listener does NOT mean you have to agree with everything that's said. It only requires an effort to understand the other person's perspective. It just involves an attitude of respect.
Empathy can be an acquired skill
We may not be naturally born empaths. Not everyone finds it easy to identify, and resonate with other people’s emotions. But we certainly can learn the skill and move toward increasing our empathetic capacity.
Does your home need some inspiration?
Wall art prints are great reminders that we all share a common longing - to be seen, heard and understood.
9 Ways to Train Your Empathetic Ear
It’s impossible to create an emotional bond when you’re checking your phone!
To make sure someone feels safe and welcome with you, adopt a relaxed body posture with open arms and solid eye contact.
The secret to authentic listening is understanding that the conversation's not about you; it's about the other person.
Be present in the conversation. Ignore any distractions and focus on the person in front of you.
Refrain from evaluating or criticizing. Just listen with an attempt to understand.
Listen to what's being said and then rephrase and restate the core thoughts.
‘Fuel’ the conversation by gently asking open-ended questions to create opportunities for sharing further feelings.
The worst thing you can do is offer unsolicited advice when you’re looking to establish an emotional connection in a conversation.
Occasional moments of silence can be a powerful tool in establishing an authentic connection.
I'm certainly no Barbara Walters when it comes to fearless conversations, but I've come a long way! And developing my 'empathy muscle' has made my progress enjoyable and rewarding.
Of these 9 ways to create more empathetic conversations, the ones I'm still working on are #8 and #9. It's sooo tempting to blurt out opinions and advice! And holding a space for stillness is tricky too. But, I'm determined to keep practicing. Practice makes...better conversations!
How about you? It it easy to hold your tongue? Are you comfortable with the pregnant, silent pauses?
I share art and life-lessons inspired by my own path towards emotional wellness,