Was there ever a time in your life where you didn’t know what to say, or how to react to what someone was telling you? Have you ever had deep emotions yourself but didn’t get the support you were looking for?

During those times you needed empathy.

Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.

-Barack Obama

Empathy is listening without judgement, trying to understand how someone may be feeling and seeing them as a normal human being even though they are going through difficult emotions.

    1. Watch and Listen

When you watch and listen for what a friend or loved one is saying, you gain awareness and understanding for their issues. Stay in the present moment, give them your full attention, listen, and let them talk freely. Be careful not to interrupt so you can hear their full story.

      Things to look for to help you understand how they are feeling:
      • Facial expressions: crying, flushed cheeks, avoiding eye contact
      • Physical expressions: shaking, turning away, or tensed muscles
    1. Imagine and Reflect

Challenge yourself to think about how you would feel in this situation. Imagine what your feelings would be and the thoughts that would cross your mind. Try to rephrase what your friend is saying.

      • It sounds like you are feeling…
      • This situation seems to be so overwhelming

Things to be careful about:

      • ​​Everyone’s situation and experiences are different. Try to avoid comparing their situation to a situation that you had.
      • Make sure your reflection is based on what they are saying and feeling (you are feeling sad right now), not where you want them to be (you will feel better soon).
    1. Ask

Ask open ended questions about your friend’s situation so you can gain a better understanding and keep the conversation going.

Examples of Clarification:

      • When you said … what did you mean?
      • Could you tell me more about …?
      • Can you help me understand why this was so upsetting to you?
    1. Show You Care

Let your friend or loved one know you care through proper actions and words. Every individual is different on how they want to be comforted; don’t assume. Ask them, “do you want to talk about it, would you like a hug, would it help if we went for a walk, or what can I do to help you?

For further practice, try our Building Connections tool​.

Empathy might sound hard, but it really isn’t. Don’t overthink it. Stay in the moment. Show your friend that you care. Often you will find just being there and ready to listen when they are ready to talk is the most important thing you can do. ​​