You are talking to someone, and suddenly he/she tells you something emotional, such as "I just lost my job." How do you respond? Respond with empathy, and you will greatly improve your relationship with the other person. But respond as if you do not really care, you could ruin the relationship. Empathy, literally "in feeling", is the capability to appreciate, understand, and accept another person's emotions. Showing empathy genuinely is one of the most important interpersonal skills that anyone must master.
- Listen attentively to what the other person is saying. This will allows you to absorb what they say and be able to respond appropriately. Eliminate distractions: put down the book you're reading, turn off the TV, etc. Focus all your attention to what the other person says. Pay attention not only to the words spoken, but also to the way these words are communicated (tone, inflection, mannerism, etc).
- Let your body language convey empathy. Maintain close (but not too close) proximity. Establish comfortable eye contact. Maintain good body posture. Don't fidget or do other things that show disinterest, but rather direct 100% of your attention toward the other person.
- Reflect upon what the other person just said. Reflecting upon what the other person said helps to show that you are understanding and interpreting what is said, give the other person a chance to elaborate further on the feelings being experienced, and demonstrate your concern for the other person. Say something like "Sorry to hear you just lost your job; I see this is upsetting to you," "you look a little sad right now," and "this is hard to talk about."
- Validate the other's emotions; immediately agree with what the other person just said. Validating, or justifying, the other person's emotions helps to convey your acceptance and respect for the feelings the other person is experiencing. For example, "I can understand why you would be upset under these circumstances," or "anyone would find this difficult," or "anyone would have felt the same way," or "your reactions are totally normal."
- Offer personal support. Offering personal support goes beyond words to enhance rapport by letting the other person know that you want to help. E.g. "I want to help in any way I can; please let me know what I can do to help."
- Engage the other person in a partnership. A sense of partnership helps the other person to feel that he/she can be part of the solution, and that you are willing to be there to help. E.g. "Let us work this out together." "After we talk a little more, perhaps we can work out some solutions that may help."
- Show respect whenever possible. Showing respect by focusing on the positive aspects further enhances rapport and fosters effective coping skills. For example, "Despite your feeling so bad, you are still coping so well. That is quite an accomplishment. I am very impressed by how well you are coping with the uncertainty."
- Make sure you practice this as much as possible to really get it down. This should eventually become second-nature.
- Both nonverbal and verbal communications are paramount in conveying empathy; they should complement each other.
- For effective nonverbal communications, appropriate body posture, body movements, caring facial expression, and a gentle, comforting tone are very important. Touch is also very powerful if used appropriately.
- Reflecting upon what others just said helps to encourage them to talk more about their feelings.
- Validating others' emotions helps to convey acceptance and respect for their emotional experiences.
- Offering personal support goes beyond words to convey willingness to help.
- Engaging the other person in a partnership promotes a sense of collaboration, so that the other person can feel part of the solution and that you can be there to help.
- Most people don't want or expect you to come up with a solution to their problem. Mostly people are just seeking someone who understands.
- Make sure you show empathy genuinely. The other person can see through insincerity and your relationship thereof would come to an end.
- Don't be discouraged if you don't do it right the first few times. Like anything else, showing empathy effectively takes practice to become a habit.
- Avoid "why" questions. Sometimes this comes across as accusatory.
- Do not tell the person what he or she should have done or should do. Often he or she already knows this.
Related Tips and Steps
- How to Express Your Emotional Pain the Healthy Way
- How to Be a Good Listener
- How to Communicate Effectively
- How to Communicate With Body Language
- How to Help and Support a Friend Through Any Hardship
- How to Support Friends when They Are Down