Increasing Empathy

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
This is the final EQ competency in the Six Seconds EQ Model, and one that is very dear to me as we are never on this life’s journey alone but surrounded by people with whom we need to interact on a daily basis. For these interactions to be meaningful we need to Increase Empathy.

Increasing Empathy is defined as being able to recognize and appropriately respond to others’ emotions. It involves a non-judgmental openness to others’ feelings and experiences that help build connection and awareness. It starts by noticing both the pleasant and unpleasant feelings and genuinely caring what the other person is experiencing. The next steps include listening, sharing, and responding in a way that shows your concern. Empathy is key to understanding others and forming enduring and trusting relationships. It ensures you take other people into account in your decision-making and gives them a rock-solid assurance that you are on the same team. It’s a remarkable ability – and opportunity – to form an emotional connection that fuels insight, trust, and helps us solve problems together. 

Example: When someone is acting in a way that makes you angry or uncomfortable, empathy opens you up to the possibility of reconciliation. Instead of making assumptions about why the other person has acted in that way and judging them, empathy opens you up to exploring the underlying emotional drivers of that person’s actions. Doing so often results in the formation of an emotional connection with that person, because we realize that they are also dealing with a complex emotional landscape that goes beyond what we see on the surface.

Deepen your Relationships

Increasing empathy helps you to deepen your relationships. It’s the link between self and others, how we connect, heal, and relate. As social creatures, humans are quite literally wired to feel empathy, and making the effort to practice empathy more frequently will bear the fruit of having deeper, more meaningful relationships. Which in turn leads to a successful life, professionally and personally. Focusing on others is a precursor to empathy. The most basic component of empathy is noticing others.

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands.

[Daniel Goleman]


Another component of empathy is moving to curiosity. Six Seconds likes to use the metaphor of the iceberg. The behavior we see from others is only the tip of the iceberg, and the rest of the iceberg represents the emotional drivers behind that behavior. A sense of curiosity opens us up to looking beneath the surface and figuring out the deeper reasons why something has happened.

5 practical tips to help you increase your empathy in any situation. 

1. Make curiosity a habit
The switch from judgment to curiosity is a crucial step as mentioned before. Don’t judge based on your own assumptions, but rather become curious. Switch from thinking you know what’s going on to genuinely wondering what’s going on. This mental shift is subtle but can change your perspective in a big way. Instead of making statements rather learn to ask the right questions.

2. Widen your circle
Empathy, especially for strangers, starts with exposure to people who are different than us. Research has found that contact with people of different races and cultures increases our empathy towards them at a neurological level. So, if you want to increase your empathy, widen your circle.

3. Get lost in a good book, but not just any book
Reading literary fiction, specifically, has been shown to improve empathy. Findings are remarkable. When participants read nothing, non-fiction, or popular fiction, their results are unimpressive. But reading literary fiction leads to big increases in the reader’s ability to empathize. 

4. Learn another language
It has also been proven that people who have learnt other languages or merely been exposed to them, show an increased ability to take others’ perspectives – basically, to be more empathetic. 

5. Ask someone how they are doing and then stop and really listen to them
Listen with more than one of your senses. Pay attention to the person’s body language, their facial expressions and overall demeanor – as well as what they say. We all have a tendency to breeze through some interactions on autopilot, but if you want to actively work on connecting with others, try this at least once per day. Ask the question more sincerely, so they know that you actually want to know, and are not necessarily looking for a quick, automatic, “I’m good.” It’s a really slight change of inflection in the question and people will know that you mean it. 

We make the world a more compassionate place, one act at a time so make it your mission to really try to increase your empathy and see the impact it has on your relationships. Don’t delay, try it today and let’s make the world a better place together.