A sense of empathy is key to creating strong, healthy relationships — with family members, friends, and especially significant others. Whether you're building new bonds or hoping to strengthen your current connections, you can follow these four essential steps to bring more empathy to your relationships:
- Try to understand where others are coming from. The ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes can do wonders for a relationship. If you're angry with a roommate for regularly leaving her things lying around, take a step back: is it because she's usually in a hurry? Rather than snapping at her for being messy, help her to organize her schedule and offer a few time management tips. Not only will empathy allow you to see things from her perspective, but it will also force you to consider the way your actions are perceived by someone else.
- Learn to appreciate differences. Face it: you won't agree with everyone about everything. Embrace your own beliefs but try to see the value in someone else's, too. Have a sister who doesn't believe in living together before marriage? No need to list out all the reasons you think it's necessary. Just remember that a range of opinions keeps things exciting and you'll be able to learn from those who see things in a fresh, unusual way.
- Acknowledge other people's feelings. Half the time people don't care whether or not you're on their side — they just want to know that you recognize how they feel. Before you jump right into your own opinions, take a second to address theirs first — "I know you must be feeling like this, but I'm seeing it like this."
- Anticipate what people may need. When you know someone well, you can usually predict what they want out of something — including their relationship with you. If a friend calls about a breakup, chances are she doesn't want you to berate her for hanging on for so long. Instead, expect that she'll just want you to listen and save the tough love for later.