For the longest time empathy was viewed as a genetic quality either you were born with it or you weren’t. More recently, many have taken on the belief that although some may genetically be more empathetic than others, but that empathy is something that can be learned.
One of the best resources that I’ve found with applicable information on the power of empathy is Dan Pink’s, A Whole New Mind. At the end of his section on empathy, Pink lists some workbook-style ideas on how you can learn to be more empathetic. I’ve listed some of his ideas here, as well as few ideas of my own. Enjoy!
Get in the Middle
If you want to relate to a specific group, then do what they do. Hang out where they hangout. Shop where they shop.
This is something that advertisers and marketers have been doing for decades. If you want to sell toothpaste, then actually use the toothpaste and only then will you begin to see it with the eyes of the consumer. Hollywood comically acts out this idea in the movie, What Women Want, in which Mel Gibson tries to “think like a broad.”
Social Media has made it easy to connect with specific groups on-line. Although it is nothing like interacting with a person face to face, it is a quick way to get involved with the conversation.
Paul Ekman is the world’s foremost expert on facial expressions and the professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. He just released the second edition of his most recent book, Emotions Revealed.
Also, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Blink, in which Gladwell features some studies done by Ekman.
Take An Acting Class
It sounds crazy I know, but acting classes can help you gain a greater understanding of human emotions. Dan Pink says that “increasing numbers of physicians are working to understand and deepen their Empathy by taking acting classes.” Most local colleges offer evening classes.
Learn to listen to the people you can’t stand. Don’t tune out when you hear something you disagree with, and don’t immediately interject with a differing opinion. The longer you listen to someone, the greater the chance that they will actually listen and digest your point of view. This will help you to grow into someone who can even relate to those that live in sharp contrast to your own life.
Get out and help people living lives that are far different from your own. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or work a few days with Habitat for Humanity. You will find that the more time you spend there, the easier it becomes to see yourself in their shoes.
Psychologists have developed a collection tests to measure empathy and associated traits, many of which are available on-line for free. Here is a short list of interesting tests that are far from the standard SAT and IQ tests you are probably used to.
Empathy Quotient – This test determines if you have a female brain or a male brain.” According to Simon Baron-Cohen, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” He proposes this theory in his book, The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain.
Guardian Unlimited’s The Empathy Quotient – intended to measure how easily you pick up on other people’s feelings and how strongly you are affected by other people’s feelings.
Spot the Fake Smile – The BBC’s experiment is designed to test whether you can spot the difference between a fake smile and a real one.
Mind in the Eyes – Another Simon Baron-Cohen test that measures your ability to identify a person’s emotion by viewing only the person’s eyes.
What do you do to make sure that empathy is part of your business, blogging, marketing messages…..your life?