Don't Agree? Can't Relate? How You Can Gain More Empathy For Others

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Are you having trouble relating to others? Understanding your partner and other loved ones? Communicating with your coworkers? Have you started to wonder whether you might be the common denominator in your relationship misunderstandings?

Every relationship comes with its unique set of challenges but relating to others shouldn’t feel foreign. Cultivating more empathy will enhance your relationships and encourage you to forge strong connections with other people. Use the following tools to increase your empathy levels and build successful relationships.

Immerse yourself in fiction

Immersing yourself in fictional stories can be incredibly beneficial in cultivating more empathy. Reading books and watching television shows or movies allow us to explore the lives of others. When we embark on these fictional journeys, we form attachments to characters, begin to see the world through their eyes, and walk a while in their shoes. Engaging in the fictional lives of characters is almost like practicing for “the real thing” – the more you cultivate your imagination, the more you cultivate your ability to empathize.

Practice active listening

Do you find yourself listening just to solve an immediate problem? Does partner accuse you of constantly interrupting or cutting them off? Do you hear this from your friends and family, too? This might be because you don’t give them the opportunity to fully express themselves.

When we don’t truly listen to another person, it’s impossible to empathize with them. Next time you find yourself in an argument or discussion with a loved one, practice listening without interruption. To gain full comprehension, repeat back to them what you understand about their wants and needs. You can resolve conflict more efficiently and build stronger connections when you listen for understanding.

Don’t shy away from curiosity  

Don’t be scared to ask questions when you meet new people, or to obtain a deeper understanding of someone you already feel close to. The more you inquire about the people you meet, the more easily you’ll see things from a variety of perspectives. Being curious decreases judgment while increasing empathy.

Step outside of your comfort zone

The more places you visit, the more people you’ll meet. The more questions you ask, the more expansive your worldview will be. Try stepping outside of your comfort zone and helping people you wouldn’t normally find yourself interacting with.

Instead of living inside of your own bubble, step into a new environment and devote your energy to another person. Remember that, ultimately, we all carry biases, and that it’s important to question them. Challenge these biases to empathize more with one another.

Empathy takes practice, and while some of us carry this trait more naturally than others, we can all benefit from cultivating it.  

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on developing empathy, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.