Today we honor a great hero who dedicated his to life to ending racial and economic inequality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was an iconic leader who inspired us to have empathy for people from all walks of life.
Empathy has been on the tongues of many lately, from educators to businessmen to politicians, as an important trait necessary for successful relationships at home and at work. Differing from sympathy, which is feeling sorrow for someone else’s misfortune and may come from a place of perceived superiority, empathy is the ability to understand and share the other person’s feelings and perspectives, to figuratively “walk in someone else’s shoes”. Here’s a great video on the difference between the two.
Below are 6 tips from Antedote on building empathy for others. Much of it seems like obvious common sense, but in daily practice, it is often easy to forget to do. Beyond our personal lives, being empathetic is also critical in our research work to truly understand consumer behavior and motivations and reach deeper insights.
6 Tips for Practicing Empathy
- When someone else is talking to you, truly listen and focus on their words as opposed to thinking and creating your own response to it. Take a few moments before verbally responding to consider their emotional state and the motivations behind their words.
- Be curious about others outside your social circle. Next time you’re at a café, strike up a conversation with a stranger. Even more points to chatting with someone who does not share your gender, ethnic make up, or age group. Go beyond talking about the weather. A good icebreaker is to offer them a genuine compliment and then ask a question that follows up on learning more about how they acquired that skill/trait. Allow the other person to talk about themselves.
- Share a hidden part of yourself. When someone shares a story with you, open up and share a story of yourself as well to show them that you understand what they are going through and where they are coming from.
- When meeting someone different than us, recognize your own preconceptions and prejudices and where they stem from. Do not let them govern your actions. Instead focus on finding commonalities between you and the other person.
TAKE A WALK IN ANOTHER (WO)MAN’S SHOES
- Put into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.” Do activities that you wouldn’t normally participate in to literally see how it feels to live someone else’s life. Attend a service of a faith that is not your own. Spend time in a neighborhood that you never hang around in.
CHOOSE THE OTHER SIDE
- Don’t instinctively go with your default reaction. Try to internally take the opposite point of view first, then work from there. Try to even argue the opposing view.
By practicing empathy in our daily lives, we can help to strengthen our relationships with our family, friends, and our greater community to build the caring world that King dreamed of.