Good Ways to Show Empathy

Show empathy with encouraging words and behaviors.
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Knowing how to show empathy will help you build rapport with people around you. Empathy means taking the perspective of someone else and treating that person according to your understanding of how she feels. You can show empathy in personal relationships as well as to strangers; it is a skill that you can develop with practice.

1 Focus Your Attention

Improve your ability to show empathy by becoming a curious and interested listener. Focus all your attention on other people when in a conversation, and try to understand the world from their point of view, writes Roman Krznaric, Ph.D., in the article, "Six Habits of Highly Empathic People." Stretch your listening skills by setting a goal to have a conversation with one stranger a week, suggests Krznaric. Ignore distractions and focus exclusively on the other person while the two of you talk.

2 Offer Encouragement

Other people will feel heard and acknowledged when you use encouraging nonverbal behavior and words. For example, lean in toward the other person, position yourself so that you are facing each other and say things like "Uh huh," "I see what you are saying" or "Tell me more." Practice by saying the sentence "I am sorry for what happened to you" several different ways and listening to see which sounds most empathic, advises David F. Swink in the Psychology Today article "I Don't Feel Your Pain: Overcoming Roadblocks to Empathy." Watch other people who are empathic and mimic their posture and tone of voice.

3 Reflect Emotions

Show the other person you are listening by reflecting back what he has said. For example, if your brother is concerned about an upcoming track meet, say something like, "Let me see if I understand. You are feeling nervous because you don't feel you have had enough time to prepare for this meet?" Reflect back his emotions both to make sure you understand how he is feeling and to show him that you see things from his perspective, writes consultant Dr. Thea Lobell in the article, "For Counselors, How to Show Empathy: 3 Steps & 1 Formula."

4 Practice Kindness

In addition to practicing empathy in your relationships, don't miss a chance to show kindness to strangers through small gestures, as suggested in the "Self" article, "Empathy: How It Changes Your Friendships, Job and Life." Hold the door for someone who is carrying a heavy load or offer to shovel the walkway of an elderly neighbor. Be aware of the struggles that others face, and you will start to see daily opportunities to show empathy.

Arlin Cuncic has been writing about mental health since 2007, specializing in social anxiety disorder and depression topics. She served as the managing editor of the "Journal of Attention Disorders" and has worked in a variety of research settings. Cuncic holds an M.A. in clinical psychology.