“When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you.” – Susan Sarandon

Walking in another person’s shoes may sound uncomfortable and impractical, but figuratively, it’s the best description of empathy. Understanding and sharing someone else’s feelings and thoughts is the basis of being empathetic and also key to creating a warmer, kinder world.

Although empathy is an innate trait, there are ways to learn and improve on it. Being more empathetic not only helps you build better relationships with people around you, but it also improves your character for the better. With these 5 ways to improve your empathy, you can become a more caring version of yourself and change the world for the better. 

Read more
Reading is a practice that’s entertaining and enriching for the mind. It’s also one of the easiest ways to improve your empathy. Fictional stories, for example, give you the opportunity to be part of the characters’ lives, feeling what they feel and that’s what being empathetic is all about. 

According to some studies, reading fiction can influence your emotional intelligence. Even non-fiction books can help you improve through simple guides and motivational advice. The more you read, the more you learn so make sure to stack up your reading list and really pay attention to every character’s emotions and thoughts.   

Ask questions
When we’re faced with something we don’t know or understand well, asking questions is the best way to remedy that and get clarity. The same applies when it comes to being empathetic. Asking questions about the other person’s thoughts and feelings can help you understand what they’re going through so you can figure out how to help them. 

Curiosity is good, but the questions need to be sensitive if you’re trying to improve your empathy. For example, instead of asking a barrage of questions that will come off as intrusive, the questions should encourage the other person to open up more, while assuring them that you’re there to listen, comfort, and help the best way you can. 

Don’t shy away from the hard conversations
Some conversations are difficult to be part of, such as issues of privilege, bias, and stereotyping. It’s even harder to have this conversation when you feel like you’re part of the problem. 

However, those conversations can open up your mind and give you a new perspective on an issue so you can better understand those being affected by it. During such conversations, it’s important to listen and not get defensive. There’s a lot you can learn from other people’s experiences as you walk a mile in their shoes. 

Check your privilege
It’s easy to dismiss other people’s struggles when you’re looking at it from a place of privilege. For example, someone worrying about not being able to buy something essential may seem odd to someone else who earns the exact same amount and can easily afford the same thing. 

But if you consider that each person has different responsibilities and obligations, especially when it comes to finances, it may not be easy to simply buy whatever they want, no matter how essential. 

Taking time to consider someone else’s situation in comparison to your own can help you be a little more empathetic to them and in general. It’s a good practice, even for the little things like friends who don’t have much free time to hang out like they used to because they now have kids and families.

Practice makes perfect
Learning different ways to improve your empathy is a great first step. Putting those methods into practice will help ingrain those practices as habits and make you more empathetic. Like some researchers say, empathy improves with practice over time.

For example, you can practice being a better listener by being more attentive to others when they talk to you and asking follow up questions that show you were paying attention to the conversation. The more you do this, the easier it will be going forward, as with anything that we learn.

“We have to teach empathy as we do literacy.” – Bill Drayton