Friendship is a back and forth dynamic of getting to know someone and letting them get to know you. Spending time with a person and creating a deeper, more meaningful relationship requires showing empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We are all formed by our different experiences, and while we will never have the same experiences as another person, we can at least attempt to understand them. Since not all of us are emotional empaths who can instinctually sense how another is feeling, it’s important to be intentional with people when working on how to be empathetic.
Not everyone is a natural at expressing empathy. It can take time and effort to develop the skill, but when you want to invest in becoming a better friend, the hard work will be well worth it. Here are three ways to help you improve expressing empathy to your friends.
A good listener makes the person talking to them feel like what they are saying is important. Set aside distractions and focus solely on the speaker to make it clear that you are paying attention. Dividing your attention between your friend and your phone or any other distraction makes them feel as though you aren’t truly hearing what they are saying.
Take time to truly hear what they are saying with not just their words but their inflection and body language. People speak volumes without ever saying a word, but in order to know that, you must concentrate on the conversation at hand, not be occupied with your own thoughts or outside stimuli.
If you are struggling to pay attention, make it clear to the other party that you want to hear what they have to say but that you need to move away from the stimuli or finish your task first. Let them know that what they have to say is important to you so you wish to make sure they have your full attention.
Part of learning to be a good friend is learning to support our friends and be a listening ear. When truly listening to what someone has to say, you might find yourself tempted to contribute to the conversation with your own anecdotes and advice. Try to spend less than twenty percent of the conversation talking and most of that should be spent asking questions to help them open up further.
Asking how a situation made the person feel or what happened next in the story conveys your desire to hear what they have to say. Focus on finding questions to ask that will draw out what they want or need to say, allowing them to unburden themselves even just a little.
When a friend comes to you needing to talk, often they aren’t there for unsolicited advice or a fix for their problems. As humans, we may feel uncomfortable hearing about a problem that we can’t fix, and instead offer useless platitudes that make the other person feel unheard. Try offering your support instead.
You can’t always assist with a problem, but an offer of help, if they want it, can make them feel a little less alone. A sincere offer of support and care, even if not taken up, can make all the difference to a person. Even just making sure they know you are available to talk again if they need it can make them feel cared for.
A large part of showing empathy is letting the other person know that you are completely invested in them and are here when they need you. Make it clear that they matter to you and you are paying attention.
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