Emotional Understanding: Part 3 of 4

Empathy. While you certainly can’t fake empathy, you can increase your connection to other people by truly listening and trying to put yourself in their shoes.

Put empathy in action. Get involved in helping people in some way (i.e. volunteering); the closer you get to a situation, the more you will realize the difficulties others might be facing.
Put aside your own preoccupations. Consider what might be going through other people’s minds in different situations. Ask yourself how you would feel in a similar situation – there are always several perspectives. Try to identify at least 2 or 3 different ways to look at it.

Understand that everyone has his or her bad days. Sure it can be hard to overlook it when someone snaps at you or is otherwise unpleasant, but remembering that nearly everyone is unpleasant sometimes when under stress (even you!) can help you learn to take things less personally.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Think about how your actions will affect others before you act. If you are unsure, ask! Not everyone thinks the same way you do. If your actions will have an effect on others, ask them if they are ok with the decision before you act.

Be aware of how others respond to you. Pay attention to how others are reacting, and what they are communicating to you. Putting in the extra effort to really listen and observe can teach you a lot about human interaction and emotions.
Don’t fall victim to “The Fundamental Attribution Error”. We as humans are forever trying to figure out the causes of other’s actions. All too often, we attribute misfortunate behavior on the part of others to dispositional rather than situational factors. For instance, writing others off as jerks for snapping at you rather than looking for external causes such as being sick or having been fired that day. As a result, we are less forgiving than many situations call for. Try to understand that others are under just as much pressure and stress as you are and as a result, their behavior may not always represent who they are as people.

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