How to Be More Sensitive

Cultivating sensitivity can improve the quality of your relationships with others.
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You may be accused of being insensitive when your teasing brings a younger sibling to tears, or when you fail to acknowledge the thoughtfulness and hard work your mother put into making your birthday present. Disregard for others' emotional and physical well-being, even when unintentional, can hinder your ability to connect with them and stunt your personal growth. Practicing simple steps can help you become more sensitive.

1 Listen to Others

Listening to someone involves more than hearing the words coming out of her mouth. Pay attention to the emotion with which the words are spoken. You may also detect hesitancy or anticipation. Body language -- such as facial expressions, gestures and posture -- are telling.Tuning in to these cues can help you respond appropriately. To be sure that you understand, reflect what you've heard her say: "The time I've spent with my friends in the last month has made you feel neglected and unimportant. It sounds like you're pretty angry too."

2 Empathize with Others

Practice empathy by imagining how you might feel if you were experiencing another person's emotions, successes or problems. It is a way of emotionally identifying, according to, an online resource that offers information on emotional intelligence. You may never have been the victim of robbery, for instance, but might have a sense of the violation that accompanies such a crime. You can be more sensitive to her needs and concerns by relating to her with empathy.

3 Offer Support

Supporting someone requires that you pay attention to and empathize with what is being said -- and respond appropriately. You can say, "I'm sorry for your loss. I am here to help in any way necessary," or "Congratulations! Would you like to celebrate?" Being supportive and sensitive to others "is to not invalidate their feelings by belittling, diminishing, rejecting, judging or ignoring them," according to It would be insensitive, then, to say, "Stop overreacting. It isn't that bad," or, "What a stupid idea! You're very foolish."

4 Set Healthy Boundaries

Personal boundaries are limits you set in order to protect yourself and require respect from others. For example, your boundaries may include intolerance of name-calling or a policy of not lending money to others. Setting healthy boundaries is beneficial to your well-being and can protect others as well. It "makes you a safe person. People know where they stand with you," according to Johnson State College Counseling Center in Vermont. A poor boundary might be to allow someone to believe you are interested in her romantically, when you are not. A more sensitive approach would be to clearly indicate your intentions for the relationship.

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.