3 ways practicing empathy can form stronger relationships

Each person, over the course of their life, has had their own cross to carry. We all have had experiences, both positive and negative ones, that have contributed to shaping the people we are today. Often times, hardships bring folks together. When mourning the loss of loved ones, we gather for a funeral. When struggling with our health, some gather at dietary meetings, or at the gym. When struggling with injustice, we protest.

But what if I didn’t know the person who passed away? What if I’m in good shape? What if I’m not a member of the party being unjustly treated? Who am I to have an opinion or input on any of these situations, especially if people close to me are in the inner circles here?

Empathy is the key to having a strong level of emotional intelligence, or EQ. (IQ is your intelligence quotient, so EQ is your emotional quotient). Like IQ, many are born with the ability to foster more EQ than others. However, it’s something you can work on, and get better at. There’s a few key ways to practice your empathetic skills and increase your EQ while doing so.

Judge no hardships over another

We’ve all had our own hardships. But to judge one struggle over another is the first step in the wrong direction. Is losing a family member harder than losing a family pet? Is finding out some has cancer harder than finding out they have Alzheimer’s? We can’t judge. That’s not our place. Instead, when people in your life come to you with their hardships, do not assume what they are going through. Ask.

When you ask, get ready to put yourself in the mindset of this other person. It may not be natural, or easy, but do it anyway. The more often you ask yourself, I wonder how so-and-so feels about this situation?, the easier it will be to understand someone else’s emotions, and have empathy for their situations.

Listen for context

Well, if you’re going to ask someone how they’re doing, you better be ready to listen. Listening to others talk about their experiences, especially their hardships, offers you some benefits. Firstly, it strengthens the relationship with this other person. Second, it offers you a new perspective on life.

Not all talking comes from words. Don’t forget to notice a person’s demeanor, where their eyes wander, their posture, where they place their hands when speaking. Is this their normal behavior? All of these things are context clues to help you understand how another person is feeling. And the better you can listen to these cues, the better you can understand their perspective.

Know yourself first

The ability to notice someone is not being themselves is a great skill to have. Sometimes simply asking someone how they are, gives them the recognition that whatever they’re going through is being acknowledged. That can really help strengthen your relationship with that person. Let’s go one step beyond this.

Here’s the empathetic pro tip of the day: know yourself first. Are you capable of understanding how your own actions make others feel? Are you aware of your posture, your tardiness, or dare I say it, your body odor? Knowing these things about yourself will dramatically change your relationships and interactions with people in your day to day life.

For example, at my job, I interview candidates for a variety of roles from time to time. Sometimes they’re nervous, worrying about preparing to impress a series of people for a job they’re really excited about. Now, imagine me barging into the interview room a few minutes late, folding my arms when they spoke, and generally not seeming too excited to speak to this person. Perhaps, my morning commute took me 2 hours to get to work, and on the way, I spilled hot coffee all over my shirt, and it’s raining outside, and I forgot my umbrella. Sounds like a bad morning. I walk in, and they’re all smiles ready to tell me all about why they should get the job.

Can I just assume they’re morning commute was chipper, and I’m the one who struggled hardest today? Absolutely not. For all I know, they’re a single parent with a new born at home. They got no sleep the night before, preparing for this interview so that they live a life better suited to raising a child in an expensive city. Yet, still, here they are, smiling, ready to interview.

Suddenly, my long commute doesn’t seem so terrible. Not to mention, the poor taste this person must have now. Why is this guy so miserable? Does this company really care about who they are hiring? Is this a place I want to spend my days? All because I didn’t consider how my actions were affecting the other person in the room.

We may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it.

Practice these every day, and I am confident you will strengthen your relationships at work and at home. Reach out to me to chat about your thoughts on empathy and EQ!