There’s no doubt that the world would be so much better if more people were empathetic.
This is evident in how it’s your empathetic friends who make more of an effort to be there for you when you have a hard time; how empathetic partners are better partners as they consider you in every choice they make; and how it’s your empathetic family members who make you feel better when you make mistakes because they cut you extra slack.
However, we must not only selfishly desire to be at the receiving end of empathy. As with everything, it goes both ways, so if we want the world to be a better place, we must practice empathy as well.
With that said, what are the habits of highly empathetic people that we should embrace? Read more below to find out!
1) They’re curious
Highly empathetic people often have a natural curiosity about others—even about strangers. Their mind is almost always filled with wonder and inquiry.
It’s empathetic people who ask: what could have happened in this person’s past that led them to where they are now? Did they have supportive parents, or were their good actions coming from a place of bad role models they did not want to emulate?
This is because they want to understand the history behind someone’s emotions, and why they behave the way they do, especially when they behave badly. In fact, if there’s anyone they extend extra empathy toward, it’s people we generally consider to be “bad.”
Why is this?
Well, this is because they know that every bad person almost always has an even worse history behind them. They might have had incredibly abusive parents, no parents at all, were left alone at a very young age to fend for themselves—all of which they’d either experienced or cannot fathom to experience.
So if you want to become a better empath, be curious—don’t be shy to ask your friends, family, and even strangers questions, as this can only lead to deeper understanding and more meaningful connections.
2) They ask questions
Being curious alone is not enough to be truly empathetic—you also have to practice your curiosity by asking questions.
This is because asking questions is a very powerful way for highly empathetic people to connect with others. While people who love drama ask questions to gossip, empathetic people ask questions to understand. By asking questions, they’re able to let other people know they’re listening, that they truly want to understand where they’re coming from.
This doesn’t only help them understand—it also helps the other person open up and be more comfortable in their presence. By asking thoughtful and respectful questions, empathetic people can create a safe and supportive environment that encourages the other person to share more.
That’s why we should ask more questions when we’re talking to other people, especially when they’re expressing their feelings. It helps us understand them better, and it shows them that we’re genuinely interested in listening to what they have to say.
3) They listen actively
Asking questions is key to practicing empathy. However, if we fail to listen, it defeats the very purpose of asking questions because then, we wouldn’t be able to understand them properly.
This is why highly empathetic people always make an effort to be attentive. Through active listening, they are able to attune to the emotions, needs, and experiences of others in order to know how they could help.
By being attentive, they are able to build strong relationships and more meaningful connections. It shows that they value the other person’s thoughts and feelings enough to invest time and energy in listening to them.
Additionally, research has actually shown that practicing empathy can enhance our own well-being by making us feel happier and more fulfilled. This is why everyone should be a little more attentive and empathetic because we not only help others feel seen and heard, but we also develop a greater sense of purpose in our personal lives.
However, it must be noted that this only happens if the motivation is to help others, not to get happiness from helping others.
Active listening also allows highly empathetic people to pick up on subtle cues and signals that others may miss, such as body language.
4) They understand body language
One way highly empathetic people understand the emotions and needs of others is through the use of body language.
Empathetic people can discern what someone is feeling simply by observing. They’re able to recognize subtle changes in facial expressions, body posture, or tone of voice that indicate a shift in mood or feeling.
For example, when someone gets irritable when touched, is rapidly bouncing their knees, and is profusely sweating, they don’t have to ask to know that person is feeling anxious.
When empathetic people notice these cues, they don’t ignore them; instead, they use them to adjust accordingly and make the other person feel more comfortable in their presence.
Empathetic people are often able to read these cues more effectively than others because they are more attuned to the emotional states of others. However, even if it takes more effort for you, making an effort to understand body language is something we should all learn to be effective, compassionate, and empathetic communicators.
5) They pause to listen
In conversations, a lot of us often get too excited that we end up cutting other people off when they’re speaking. We usually don’t notice that this hurts or disrespects the other person because we’re too overcome by enthusiasm. We’re so focused on getting the spotlight or getting our chance to speak that we forget to pause to listen.
You know what sets empathetic people apart? They pause to listen.
This is because they want to fully understand and connect with the person speaking to them. By actively listening and giving their full attention, they can better understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings.
It seems so simple, but if you’re used to being the person in a group who speaks the most, you’ll find that this skill is a little tricky to master. The key is to develop a genuine desire to listen not to respond, but to understand.
6) They replace “me” with “we”
Using “we” can help to build trust and rapport with others, as it shows the other person that you want to be in it together, and you’re not letting them do it alone. This helps them feel a sense of belonging and connection, which can be especially important in situations where people are feeling isolated or alone.
For example, an empathetic partner will talk in terms of “we” rather than “me,” because they consider you in every plan they make and consider your feelings in every decision. They say, “We need to work together to solve this problem,” rather than, “I need to solve this problem.”
Another example is that an empathetic friend will say “we” rather than “me” in order to make you feel that they’re on your side because they want you to feel like you don’t have to do things on your own. They say, “We’re going to do this together,” instead of “I have to do this.
So if you want to have deeper, more meaningful connections with others, perhaps changing your language can be an effective first step in becoming more empathetic and considerate.
7) They’re considerate
Empathetic knows that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is why they take the time to carefully consider how their decisions might impact others before acting on them.
This helps them avoid bad decisions that could lead to disastrous consequences, which doesn’t only affect them, but the people around them as well. They measure the weight of their words and actions, avoiding those that could cause others harm or even discomfort.
Being considerate is the bare minimum of being a decent person, which is why it should be expected of all of us. However, we should all practice being considerate of the way empathetic people are. When we go out of our way to consider other people’s feelings, we are able to make more of a positive impact on our world.
Moreover, empathetic people are considerate because they know very well how it feels to have a hard time. This means when someone they know is struggling, they will try their best to help because they care immensely about other people.
8) They care immensely about others
Empathetic people care so immensely about others that it often feels like a curse. They feel a deep caring toward everyone, and often to a fault, because they still feel it even toward people who have hurt them.
This is because they have a strong sense of altruism that makes them want to prevent others from hurting the way they do. They genuinely care about the well-being of other people, especially their loved ones, and are willing to go out of their way to help them—sometimes at the cost of their own happiness.
They also often feel a sense of social responsibility to help others. They recognize that they’re in a place not to help others and it feels wrong not to do so, which is why a lot of empaths might choose to do volunteer and advocacy work to help people who are in need.
Caring to a fault, of course, is something empathetic people need to do less, but we must all care enough about other people to help those who need it, especially when we’re capable. In fact, it’s this kind of caring that always pushes empathetic people to put themselves in others’ shoes in order to understand what they’re going through
9) They put themselves in other people’s shoes
Have you ever heard of experiential empathy?
Experiential empathy is known as the highest form of empathy. Simply put, it goes beyond imagining yourself in other people’s shoes—you actually put yourself in them to truly understand what they’re going through.
For example, the most empathy that a normal, healthy person visiting a cancer ward can feel toward the patients is by feeling sorry for their suffering, but they cannot truly fathom what it means to suffer from a severe illness.
On the other hand, a person who has had cancer naturally feels experiential empathy because they know how it feels to be that patient in that ward. They don’t only imagine themselves in the patient’s shoes, because they used to wear those in the past, too.
You see, experiential empathy goes beyond simply feeling sorry for someone or imagining what they might be going through. Instead, it involves actually going through their experiences to gain a deeper understanding of their perspective. This is why ethnographic researchers immerse themselves in the culture of their subjects in order to truly understand it.
However, it goes without saying that there is no need to actively put yourself in a dangerous situation to feel empathy toward others. For instance, living in the streets, out in the cold with no food or water to understand the life of a homeless person is simply irrational and borderline stupid, because you’re consciously subjecting yourself to a dangerous situation that could possibly lead to dire consequences.
To practice empathy, having compassion for others is enough. Caring about what others have to say, affirming their experiences, and perhaps giving them a platform to share these if you’re capable is empathy great enough to put some good out into the universe.