Practice Empathy To Enhance Your Relationships

6 Minute Read

Sometimes, no matter how much we love or connect with a person, it can prove difficult to maintain a connection that endures all. Obstacles, differences of opinion, and unexpected life circumstances inevitably crop up and put our relationships to the test. In these moments we are shown the importance of practicing empathy as a way to relate to others and strengthen our relationships.


What is empathy?

Empathy forges true human connection through the suspension of judgement in order to relate to another person with genuine support, compassion, and understanding.

Oftentimes, people offer understanding that is only surface-level. This may be because we struggle to comprehend circumstances, feelings, or perceptions outside of our own inner experiences. This can translate into support that is well-meaning, but feels hollow to the receiver. We say things like, “cheer up,” or “I hope you feel better,” and while we may mean them earnestly, they do little to make the other person feel truly understood or consoled.

This can be a point of conflict in different types of relationships including those that are romantic, platonic, and familial. When we attempt to offer support without exercising true empathy, our good intentions often unfold into undesirable outcomes such as pity, condescension, or the desire to “fix” others. Only empathy enables us to offer true support to those we care about most.

How to practice empathy:

Below, find some ways you can begin to practice empathy as a way to enrich your relationships and sharpen your interpersonal skills.

1. Listen to Understand
2. Leave Judgement at the Door
3. Ask Questions
4. Validate Thoughts and Feelings
5. Practice on Yourself

1. Listen to understand. Avoid giving advice or trying to “fix”

Many times, our desire to help or solve a problem gets the best of us, and we jump the gun, offering advice where it’s not needed (or requested). Despite our best intentions, unsolicited advice usually has the unintended effect of making others feel unheard. The next time someone comes to you with a problem, simply listen to what they have to say.

One of the most empathetic things you can do is to listen and say, ‘I hear you. I understand why you would feel that way.’

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Don’t try to fix the situation. You may notice that they in fact never actually ask for your opinion; it’s quite possible that they just needed to vent to a friend. One of the most empathetic things you can do is to listen and say, “I hear you. I understand why you would feel that way.” This approach helps the person who’s struggling to feel validated and less alone.
The next time someone comes to you with a problem, simply listen to what they have to say. Don’t try to fix the situation.

2. Leave judgement at the door

A true key to empathizing is to refrain from judgement. This doesn’t mean that you must always agree with the other person’s viewpoint. If you find yourself in disagreement when listening to a frustrated friend or loved one, pause and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Intently listening to someone else’s life experience without judgment can help develop an understanding only empathy can create.

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Remember that they are a unique person with a unique set of life experiences that have led up to this moment (and their current interpretation of the situation). Understand that they are not obligated to feel, see, or understand things the same exact way that you would, but their pain is real, nonetheless.

Intently listening to someone else’s life experience without judgment can help develop an understanding only empathy can create. It helps one to see the world from beyond his or her perspective.

It can also help you become more imaginative about how to manage your own challenges, as you attempt to put yourself in another’s position.

3. Ask questions

Try asking a question that prompts the other person to feel heard. “I see, and how does that make you feel?” “That’s awful. Is there anything at all I can do to help?” Something as simple as this lets the person know that they have been heard, and that you’re there for them. Asking a question also allows the other person to take a brief break from any emotional struggle to reflect upon what exactly they may need in that moment.

empathy through questions
Asking questions allows the other person to take a brief break from their emotional struggle and reflect upon what they may need in that moment.

4. Validate the other person’s thoughts and feelings

Being empathetic requires you to go outside of yourself and be of genuine service to someone. It’s comfortable and reassuring for us to know that we’re not alone, that your feelings have merit, and that you’re not “crazy,” despite how you may feel.

When empathizing with someone, it’s very helpful to validate the way that they might be feeling. Try saying something like, “I understand,” or, “It’s natural to feel that way sometimes. You’ll get through this.”

Offering words of encouragement or comfort go a long way to making others feel genuinely uplifted.

When empathizing with someone, it’s helpful to validate the way that they’re feeling.
coronavirus stress

5. Practice having empathy for yourself

Before we can extend empathy to others, it’s key that we learn how to be empathetic with ourselves. As we develop compassion and patience for ourselves – our perceived flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings – we grow to become more tolerant of imperfection in others.

Empathy strips away judgement and bridges the gap between us with love.

The more we work on loving ourselves unconditionally, the more easily we can extend that pure love to the next person. Practicing with daily affirmations is another powerful way to practice empathy with yourself that will positively impact your interactions with family members, friends, partners, and even strangers.

Empathy strips away judgement and bridges the gap between us with love.

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Remember, when someone chooses to share a bit of their hardships with you, they are giving you a gift of their trust and vulnerability. The best way to honor that gift is to come to the table with an open heart and open mind.

Practicing empathy allows you to contribute to a better and brighter communal pool of human energy.

Your Turn: How has practicing empathy improved your communication or relationships? How do you practice empathy with yourself? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.

Dr. Logan Jones

Dr. Logan Jones is a Psychologist and Founder of Clarity Therapy. Sign up for his free 30 Days of Gratitude email series and follow him on Instagram at @drloganjones.



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