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Empathy Is Crucial To Any Personal Or Professional Relationship -- Here's How To Cultivate It

Have you ever shared a painful or challenging experience with a friend, partner, colleague or boss and instead of feeling heard you left the conversation feeling worse off and misunderstood?

In that moment, the person whom you were speaking to was not empathetic. They may not have intentionally responded that way and were perhaps caught up in their own problems, were busy or lacked understanding of your situation. In truth, even the most empathetic of us do this. However, it’s important to remember that empathy can make or break relationships. It is a skill, which can reap many benefits in professional and personal relationships.

A study in a Korean hospital involving 550 outpatients found that patients who perceived their physicians to be more empathetic were more satisfied and compliant with their physicians. Organisations are also seeing the need of having leaders who are able to be empathetic.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said during a recent interview with CBS Good Morning that “empathy is everything even in a business context… there was no way we could innovate without having a deeper sense of empathy.” Furthermore, The Centre for Creative Leadership analyzed data from 6,731 managersfrom 38 countries (including Singapore, Hong Kong and China) and found that managers who showed more empathy were viewed as better performers.

Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, posits that there are three types of empathy. The first being “cognitive empathy” which is about knowing and understanding how someone else feels. The second is “emotional empathy” which is experiencing the feelings of the other person. The third is “compassionate empathy” which is feeling and understanding what another person is going through but moved to do something about the situation.

Cognitive and emotional empathy alone each have their flaws. Thinking and not feeling about how someone feels has a level of detachment and complete feeling can overwhelm a person from taking productive action.

Below are 5 tips that will help you develop compassionate empathy with those around you.

1. Be present

Upon analyzing data from 14,000 college students it was found that college kids are 40% less empathetic than people 20-30 years ago. 30 years ago the pace of our lives was slower, we didn’t have constant streams of distractions pulling us in all directions. To develop compassionate empathy, you’ll need to learn to cultivate “being present.” This means being aware of what is here and now, rather than reacting to what is happening and being said. Only by being present with the person you are with can you be empathetic . A simple technique to cultivate presence is to pay attention to your in and out breath every time you notice your mind wandering.

2. Actively listen

Often we come to conversations with certain preconceived notions, thoughts, beliefs and ideas. This doesn’t enable us to listen and hear what someone else has to say. Hearing what someone is saying as if you’re hearing it for the first time will enable you to actively listen. This can be done by paraphrasing what the person has said and clarifying what they’ve said with questions.

3. Put yourself in another’s shoes

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that the more time and attention participants spent thinking empathically, the more sensitive they became. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding how they feel and think can help you to develop empathy. You can do this by taking 2-3 minutes to imagine what the other party is going through.

4. Take action

When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, lost her partner, she often had people ask her “Is there anything I can do?” She says that “Instead of offering to do anything, just do something.” You are then taking away the burden from that person to think of something when they’ve got enough on their plate to deal with. If you are afraid to take action you could instead offer 2-3 options of what you could do for them and ask the person to choose what they would prefer. This shows that you are committed to really making a difference.

5. Take good care of yourself

To be compassionate towards another you first have to start with yourself. There is a saying “How you treat others is a reflection of how you treat yourself.” Don’t leave yourself empty with trying to help others and not taking care of yourself. Take time every week to do something you enjoy and recharge your batteries.

Never underestimate the value of showing empathy to a friend, colleague, client or family member. Cultivate some of these habits, grow your compassionate empathy muscles and reap the benefits in your professional and personal life.

*This article was first published in Forbes >> click here

Bhali Gill is a Psychologist (org), Coach, Trainer and Founder of Corporate Wellbeing. She coaches individuals and leaders to overcome the challenges they face at work and in life, to reach their personal and professional potential. Her work involves inner-transformation, and becoming more of who you are. She also works with organisations to improve their productivity through employee’s mental and emotional well-being, and self-empowerment programs. She can be contacted at

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