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Three Activities to Develop Empathy & Boost Your Success

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Having a healthy level of empathy will help all your relationships thrive - at home, in the office, on base, in the classroom, and anywhere else life may take you.

Americans are caring less and less for others. Unfortunately, this is a fact backed by scientific research confirming the decline of empathy.

The good news is we can teach and develop empathy. This is because only part of someone's ability to empathize is down to "nature," so the rest is connected to "nurture." 

A study of 46,000 people found evidence for the first time that at least 10% of the differences in how empathetic people are is down to genetics. 

Varun Warrier, from the University of Cambridge who led the study, noted that "since only a tenth of the variation in the degree of empathy between individuals is down to genetics, it is equally important to understand the non-genetic factors." 

So, let's take some time to learn more about what empathy is, why it's so important, how it will help you succeed in life, and what activities enhance it. 

What is Empathy?

Psychology Today defines empathy as "the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character…It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own."

Expanding upon that, Verywell Mind breaks empathy up into three categories: Affective empathy, somatic empathy, and cognitive empathy.

Affective Empathy

The ability to respond to other people's emotions appropriately

Somatic Empathy

The ability to feel what another person is feeling

Cognitive Empathy

The ability to understand someone's response to a situation

Why is Empathy Important?

Empathy is "a core part of what it means to be a feeling, engaged human;" some even say empathy "is what makes us human."

The ability to see things from another person's point of view helps us take care of one another rather than just focus on ourselves. From stepping in when someone is being bullied on the playground to the organization of nonprofits like Hospice or Feeding America, empathy is involved.

Empathy enables us to cooperate with other people to reach shared goals. It aids in patience, considering the different angles of a situation, and compromising with one another.

It plays a huge role in friendships, romantic relationships, and the creation of familial bonds. None of these critical relationships can flourish without empathy.

Why is empathy so important? Because it sustains the most meaningful parts of our lives.

How Can Empathy Help You Succeed?

With something as all-encompassing as empathy, the possible ways it can help you succeed in life are endless. Having a healthy level of empathy will help all your relationships thrive — at home, in the office, on base, in the classroom, and anywhere else life may take you.

Empathy improves our understanding of others and therefore prevents conflict and increases collaboration. This allows us to focus our time and energy in a positive direction rather than damage control all the time.

Additionally, empathy is the most important leadership skill according to researchForbes Careers contributor Tracy Brower writes: "New research demonstrates [empathy's] importance for everything from innovation to retention. Great leadership requires a fine mix of all kinds of skills to create the conditions for engagement, happiness, and performance, and empathy tops the list of what leaders must get right."

While the article is focused on leadership in a professional capacity, the insight translates well to leadership in any instance. To be a good leader in the workplace, home, classroom, team, or military unit empathy is required.

What Activities Develop Empathy?

Try these three activities to develop and enhance your empathy.

1.   Improve Your Self-Awareness

To enhance empathy, you must achieve a certain level of self-awareness first. To better understand others, you have to understand your behavior, communication style, and worldview.

Some activities to help improve your self-awareness include:

2.   Make Listening a Priority

Empathy begins when you set the intention of listening to others.  It isn't always easy to actively listen, but it's crucial for developing empathy. Many of us half listen until it's our turn to speak, but that does nothing for developing empathy, understanding, or relationships.

Focus on more than just the words someone is speaking. Look for the signals people give that show how they are feeling. Understanding body language and facial expressions are also helpful for listening effectively.

3.   Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Learn something new or travel and see how it feels to be out of your comfort zone.

Some possibilities include:

  • Learn a new language
  • Take an art class in a medium you've never tried
  • Sign up and train for a race with a distance you've never run before
  • Visit a new state or country
  • Visit a local museum or art gallery that you wouldn't normally tour

You Can Change Yourself

A decline in empathy is troubling, but not hopeless.

As American entrepreneur Jim Rohn said, "You cannot change the circumstances, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of."

Let's develop empathy in ourselves. Then encourage those in our circle of influence to do the same.