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The habits of empathetic people
Illustration by Kevin Yu

6 min read

The habits of empathetic people

Discover the top five habits of highly empathetic people and start improve your relationships with others in the workplace.

Today’s world is stressful in the extreme. We are all under a lot of pressure to perform, pay attention, and respond quickly and appropriately, no matter how challenging life and work may be. It’s enough to make anybody go off the rails on occasion. 

All things considered, you can’t assume that people are always okay, no matter how well they seem to be coping. We need to put ourselves in others’ shoes and be open to understanding them better, as doing so helps people feel safe, builds trust, and fosters deeper connections. 

That’s empathy, in a nutshell. More simply, it’s the ability to feel and relate to another’s emotions. 

Empathy helps us comfort and connect with others, understand outside perspectives, and defuse highly-charged situations. Though many people today are hard-wired to focus mainly on themselves, empathy can be developed and cultivated like any skill. 

Today, we’ll explore the habits of highly empathetic people and provide tips to help you improve your empathetic capacity starting today. 

Top Five Habits of Highly Empathetic People

Empathy is an aspect of the human condition, but it’s also become as essential in business as it is in all interpersonal relationships. An empathetic person can immediately recognize what others are going through, helping them feel validated and connected to something outside themselves.

Here are five traits to cultivate to help you become a more empathetic person. 

Habit 1: Active Listening

Active listening is intentional. It involves removing all personal assumptions so you can genuinely listen to what another person is saying. Doing so helps you understand and retain what’s being said so you can connect with the sentiment behind the words. 

In the workplace, active listening is a critical skill for managers as you’ll often have to deal with conflict or uncomfortable situations. When an employee or coworker feels heard, they will appreciate your willingness to listen to their side of things, which may make them more comfortable sharing with you. 

Tips for practicing active listening:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Remove distractions
  • Do not engage with your phone or computer
  • Respond as appropriate, smiling, nodding, or affirming 
  • Encourage them to continue by reflecting on what’s being said; for example, “It sounds to me like…”
  • Ask questions vs. giving advice
  • Keep the focus on the subject
  • Let them do the talking

Habit 2: Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

You can’t honestly know another’s perspective until you’ve walked in their shoes. This may be an adage, but it’s a worthwhile exercise, especially in challenging situations. When you can see things from the other person’s point of view and consider all the variables that contributed to their circumstances, it will be easier to connect with them. That connection will be essential to develop a solution that works for everyone. 

Tips for practicing perspective-taking:

  • Imagine the others’ point of view
  • Try to imagine what it would feel like if you were in the same situation
  • Always assume their intent is positive, even when the person is difficult
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt
  • Approach the situation from a place of respect, just as you would expect to be treated

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Habit 3: Asking Questions

A wise person once said, “You’ll never learn anything if you do all the talking.” Asking questions and allowing others to speak freely is the best way to understand people and their motivations. Your questions should be as open-ended as possible (i.e., not yes-or-no) to allow a thoughtful response. 

Being curious, asking thoughtful questions, and allowing the other person to respond show empathy on your part, and it also provides you with information to better clarify the conversation. If your instinct is to provide advice before you ask questions, you may be missing some critical aspects underlying the issue at hand. You might also stop the person from sharing their innermost thoughts on the topic, which would undermine the purpose of the discussion. 

Here are a few questions you might ask:

  • Can you tell me more?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Can you explain what you mean by that?
  • What’s your opinion of the situation?
  • What do you think would be the best solution?
  • How can I help?

Habit 4: Being Open-Minded

Keep an open mind when speaking with others. Their perspective might not align with yours, but it’s essential to accept that others’ lived experiences and how they respond to conflict might differ from yours. Open-mindedness is an excellent way to cultivate empathy. When we can consider other viewpoints, we are on our way to a better understanding of what makes them tick. 

When we display open-mindedness, we foster more profound connection, trust, and a sense of unity. We might also learn something that we wouldn’t otherwise have considered. These attributes are especially important in the workplace, where people from diverse backgrounds come together to collaborate. An open-minded, connected team is stronger, more productive, and significantly more innovative. When you lead with these principles in mind, all stakeholders reap the benefits. 

Tips for practicing open-mindedness:

  • Reserve judgement 
  • Set aside pre-conceived beliefs
  • Consider the evidence
  • Look at problems from all sides
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong
  • Practice humility
  • Be willing to revise your opinion
  • Encourage open-mindedness in others

Habit 5: Showing Kindness and Compassion

Compassion and kindness are traits people admire and gravitate to. Though people in leadership positions must be firm, that does not preclude the need to be kind and compassionate to others. 

Compassion is expressed as a genuine concern for others, which can be expressed through direct support, reaching out to check on someone struggling, or simply being there if the person needs to talk. Compassionate people find it easy to form strong bonds with people as they will feel heard, understood, cared for, and supported. 

Kindness goes hand-in-hand with compassion, but it may present differently. Kindness isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes, it’s as simple as bringing extra coffee and donuts for your coworkers when you know they’ll be working late, remembering their birthday, or doing simple favors to lend a hand. A little kindness goes a long way! 

Tips for practicing kindness and compassion:

  • Pay attention to what people say and do
  • Be sure to clarify things before making assumptions or jumping to conclusions
  • Help out when and how you can
  • Encourage openness
  • Reserve judgement 
  • Be thoughtful
  • In conflict situations, listen first before you offer an opinion or solution
  • Ask how people are doing and be genuinely receptive to their response
  • Be aware of what your colleagues are going through and do your best to support them

Final Thoughts

The past couple of years marked a significant shift in the way people view the world around them. While kindness, empathy, and compassion have always been desirable traits, they are more important than ever today, especially when managing people. 

Simply put, one never knows what another person is going through, but when we try to connect and genuinely understand the challenges, we deepen our interpersonal and professional connections from every possible standpoint. 

To become more empathetic at work and in your daily life, practice active listening, try looking at things from another perspective, ask questions, keep an open mind, and lead with kindness and compassion. Doing so will not only make you a better manager, but it will also make you happier—science says so!


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Gabe Scorgie

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