Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place, trying to understand their emotions and feelings, whether it is to lend them support or just to understand them. Sometimes all someone needs is a little bit of understanding, nothing more! It is a very important trait because it shows that we are not just interested in ourselves and that we care about what happens to those around us or even to strangers.
To show interest and understanding in conversations, the rules for being a good listener aren’t enough, but it’s important to review them briefly: Listen to the person who is speaking to you, look at them attentively, don’t interrupt them and wait until they finish before offering your opinion or ideas.
However, there are some more specific ways to show empathy in a conversation, basically through verbal and non-verbal communication (body language) and certain behaviors that we will discuss below.
Regarding verbal communication, you can use a series of short phrases inserted in the conversation: Any of the following phrases will work, depending on the subject of the chat: Seriously? Really? Is that right? No way! Incredible! That’s great! How can that be? I understand you. You’re right. Of course. And so on.
Sometimes body language is more important than words, so you can consider the following: A good way to show that you are paying attention is to sit without crossing your arms or legs, leaning slightly towards the person you are speaking to, but without invading their personal space. Another gesture that goes a long way when it comes to showing empathy is nodding your head repeatedly. This is something that is almost imperceptible but it will give the person you are speaking to the confidence they need to keep talking or to get something off their chest.
Listen to them without judging: Even if you don’t agree with what they are saying and you are tempted to criticize, it’s important to let them talk and to explain themselves. Empathy is exactly about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. If we were in the same situation, would we like to be criticized or judged? Possibly not, so try to avoid it.
Lastly, practice paraphrasing what the other person said: Paraphrasing is basically repeating what the other person said but in your own words in order to show that you have really understood them. This also reassures this person that you are listening carefully and that you care about what they are telling you.