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A Step-by-Step Guide to Showing Empathy
Culture | Personal development

A Step-by-Step Guide to Showing Empathy

Understand another person’s feelings, ideas, and thoughts, and putting yourself in their shoes.

Author: Arthur Lankester
December 1st, 2021
Tools: Feelings Sensations Emotions (PDF)

Showing empathy means understanding another person’s feelings, ideas, and thoughts, and putting yourself in their shoes. It’s about seeing things from their perspective while being free of judgment or personal biases and prejudices. While it’s not a skill that can be developed in an instant, anyone can learn how to practice empathy

Competencies became a popular identifier and predictor of leadership effectiveness and long-term success of potential hires. It also became the foundation for further developing promising individuals in an organisation.

6 Steps to Show Empathy

This quick step-by-step guide will help you start your journey practising empathy in
your daily life:

1. Listen

One of the simplest and yet most meaningful ways to show empathy is through active listening, or listening with purpose. This means being present and giving the other person your full attention.

  • We’re only human, and sometimes, our minds do tend to wander. If you find yourself thinking about things other than what the other person is saying, you can ground yourself in the present again by asking them to repeat what they were saying.
  • When talking, face the person and try to maintain eye
    contact. Don’t overdo it, though, because too much eye
    contact might make some people feel uncomfortable.
  • Active listening has three key components. You have to paraphrase what the other person said to let them know that you understood what they were saying. Next, you have to know your emotional reaction. By doing so, you can help the other person have a better understanding of their own emotions and regulate them. Lastly, you have to express your behaviour. This puts you in the other person’s shoes and lets them know that you fully understand what they’re going through. Furthermore, this helps them figure out how to respond to their situation moving forward.

2. Withhold judgment

Withholding judgment can be especially challenging, given that we each have our own biases. However, to withhold immediate judgment is a crucial step towards showing others empathy. Making snap judgments can shut off or limit a conversation. Be mindful and learn how to recognise your own judgments or biases.

  • This means seeing things from the other person’s perspective without deciding whether it’s good or bad. By making the effort to develop a deeper understanding of their situation, you’re opening up more opportunities for empathy.
  • Sometimes, not making snap judgments can be difficult in certain situations. But while difficult, it’s not impossible. To practice avoiding making snap judgments, you can:
    • Try to get a deeper look at the other person to find other ways you can empathise with them.
    • Find something that you have in common—sharing commonalities decreases the likelihood of us judging others.
    • Ask questions. Aside from enriching the conversation and encouraging them to share their story, questions help you learn more about the other person.

3. Open up

Empathy isn’t a one-way street and listening alone won’t solve any problems.
Opening up to the other person can be difficult, but by doing so, you’re creating a deeper connection with them.

  • Empathy isn’t just about seeing things from the other person’s perspective. It’s also about learning how to share your vulnerabilities and creating an emotional
    connection with the other person.
  • When opening up, try to express your feelings but refrain from sharing every
    detail of your life story. For personal questions, it’s always best to answer them truthfully by saying exactly how you feel and try to avoid saying “I don’t know.”

4. Show physical affection

Touch can help reassure or calm a person because it’s one way of showing empathy. It also helps establish an emotional connection with the other person. However, before you show anyone physical affection, make sure that they’re okay with it. Ask them if they’re okay with you giving them a hug or putting your arm around their shoulders.

5. Develop outwards attention

Learn how to notice the people around you, what they’re doing, what their
expressions are, and what they might be feeling. Pay attention to the details in your surroundings and the people around you, as this can help you show empathy
towards them and offer them help when they need it.

6. Offer help

Show the other person that you’re there to help make their life easier. Show them emotional support by encouraging them or by letting them know that you’re always there for them. Offering help doesn’t necessarily have to be a grand gesture. It can be as simple as buying them coffee or holding the door for them. Even the gesture of offering them help can convey empathy. However, this also has its limits. Refrain from taking over and solving their problems, unless they explicitly ask you for help with this. Sometimes, all someone needs is a person who listens and is there for them. Empower them to solve their own problems while letting themknow that you will be there for them when they need you.

Interested to apply empathy at work? Read this story about: Shifting Gears with Empathy in the Workplace


Arthur Lankester

Arthur Lankester is a passionate trainer and coach helping individuals and organisations in developing ‘transformational capabilities’. Simply said, Arthur help’s people to develop skills to go through complex personal or organizational changes’. Arthur is graduated (Msc.) Psychologist and Master of Business Administration.

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