18 September 2007

The art of empathy.

One of the best skills that I have learned over the years that has not only helped me to build better relationships but also to reduce stress in my life has been to become more empathetic. In my terms this means the ability to put myself in the shoes of the other person and look at the situation from their point of view.

It is an interesting exercise, one that I think we all need to do a little more often, especially when we are feeling a little overwhelmed with events going on around us. When you make the conscious decision to think about a situation from the other persons perspective it takes us out of our stressed out head and lets us see the situation in a way that wouldn’t even have dawned on us before.

Being empathetic generally makes us more compassionate, more understanding and more tolerant. No feelings we normally experience in a chaotic world.

So how do you become more empathetic? Like most things in life, it takes some time and energy. Instead of reacting in certain situations, take a moment to start the empathy process. This often simply means not responding on the spot, rather asking for time to think a matter over. This gives you the time to think in an empathetic way. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? Is their problem, complaint, or their actions reasonable? You might come full circle and end up back where you started but at least you will have thought the situation through fully.

Just like it is hard to feel pain when you laugh, it is hard to be stressed out and angry when you look at any situation with empathy. Try it – I guarantee that you will be surprised by how good it feels and calming it is.

Think about a situation that is causing you a lot of stress at the moment. Choose a problem relating to a relationship. Now, you know how you feel about what is going on, start to think about the problem from their point of view. How would you feel in the same situation, are you being reasonable, have you overreacted, do you really understand the situation fully or do you need more information? By taking this empathetic approach you feel calmer, be more likely to resolve the situation and ideally be one step closer to finding some balance in your life.

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