Empathy – the ability to understand others’ feelings – is key to communication skills, emotional intelligence and deeper relationships. Anyone can develop a greater capacity for empathy. Begin with these simple steps:
Step 1: Relax and focus on your breath
- Pay attention to your breath as you inhale and exhale, fully but easily, three times.
- Notice how your body supports itself as you settle into your posture, whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down.
- Relax your muscles as you gently close your eyes.
Step 2: Focus on someone else
- Imagine you are sitting or standing with another person.
- Imagine giving that person your full attention.
- Notice not only what the other person is saying, but also his/her facial expressions, posture, body language and movements.
Step 3: Widen your awareness
- Maintaining your observations of the other person, expand your awareness to include ambient sounds, sights, smells and other sensations.
- Observe the other person’s actions (for example, are their eyes darting? Are they checking their watch?) without judging or otherwise reacting to them.
Step 4: Include yourself
- Maintaining your awareness of the other person and your surroundings, notice and accept your own thoughts and emotions, too – without judging them or acting on them.
Step 5: Reflect and expand
- Repeat these simple steps in imaginary encounters and actual ones as an easy and natural way to increase your capacity for empathy.