Why Is Empathy Important and How Can You Improve It?

UPDATED: April 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 22, 2024
Group of young staff showing why is empathy important

In simple terms, empathy is putting yourself in another’s shoes to better understand what they’re feeling. Having empathy can make you a more effective communicator and help you build stronger relationships. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of empathy and understanding the perspectives of others, and offer tips on how to become more empathetic.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Being empathetic means not only knowing what someone is feeling, but also being able to relate to their experience to some degree. It helps us connect with others on a deeper level.

Empathy is present in all areas of life, including personal relationships, work and interactions with strangers. While some people may naturally have a lot of empathy, it’s not exclusively an innate skill. With practice and self-awareness, you can build and improve your empathy skills.

Types of empathy

Most psychology experts agree there are three types of empathy. Though they play different roles, all three contribute to why empathy is important.

The three types of empathy are:

  • Cognitive empathy: This empathy enables you to identify and understand someone’s emotions without physically experiencing them.
  • Emotional empathy: Emotional empathy refers to the ability to physically and emotionally feel someone’s emotions as if they were your own.
  • Compassionate empathy: Also called empathic concern, this empathy lets you take action to alleviate someone else’s suffering based on understanding their emotions.
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The importance of empathy

Why is it important to have empathy? Empathy enables deeper connections and helps you build better relationships with friends, family, colleagues, romantic partners and even strangers. For example, leading employees with empathy can make you a better leader. Understanding how others feel gives you the best chance to make decisions with them in mind.

An empathetic approach can also help you navigate conflicts with grace to avoid negative outcomes or broken relationships. Empathy ensures that everyone feels heard, valued and understood, which are critical aspects of healthy, thriving relationships and communities.

When you’re able to see others’ perspectives, you unlock the benefits of empathy, including:

  • Stronger relationships: Having empathy lets you build a connection based on mutual support and understanding.
  • Enhanced communication: Empathy promotes active listening and validation of others’ feelings for clearer, more meaningful communication.
  • Conflict resolution skills: Understanding another’s viewpoints and emotions helps you resolve conflicts peacefully by finding common ground.
  • Promotion of kindness: Empathy motivates you to be compassionate and kind toward others, creating a more understanding world.

How to become more empathetic

Empathy isn’t something you’re born with or without. Everyone can hone their skills to be more empathetic toward others, even those who are more naturally empathetic. There’s no shortcut to becoming more empathetic and compassionate—it takes time, self-awareness and practice. Consider these methods, tips and practices to improve your empathy.

Perform active listening

When you actively listen, you’re not just listening to respond, you’re listening to understand. You can practice active listening in every conversation, from a chat with your spouse to a conversation with the grocery clerk. To actively listen, give others your full attention, show interest in what they’re saying and ask clarifying questions. You should also avoid interrupting with your own thoughts or opinions. 

Cultivate curiosity

Being curious about others’ experiences and emotions can make you more empathetic. To cultivate curiosity in your relationships, ask open-ended questions that can’t easily be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Asking open-ended questions invites the other person to share their story and lets you learn more about their perspective. However, avoid asking leading questions that suggest a particular answer or opinion.

Use perspective-taking

Perspective-taking involves putting yourself in another person’s shoes and imagining how they might feel about a situation. You can practice this skill through role-playing, writing prompts and exercises or by reflecting on different scenarios from multiple viewpoints.

Validate others’ emotions

One of the easiest ways to improve your empathy skills is to validate other people’s emotions, even in mundane conversations. Validating someone’s emotions generally involves acknowledging how they feel without judgment or opinion.

For example, you might talk to a friend who is stressed about a big project at work and respond, “Wow, that sounds like a challenging situation. I can imagine how stressful and on edge you must feel about it.” However, be sure that you’re being genuine when offering validation.

Seek new interpersonal experiences

It’s incredibly difficult to grow if you’re standing still. Empathetic people understand that they’re one small part of a much larger community and must seek new experiences to grow. You can become more empathetic by looking for and engaging with people who have differing viewpoints and backgrounds from your own.

Even if you don’t have direct access to people from different backgrounds, you can find them online. You might listen to a podcast with guests from different cultures or read opinion pieces from someone with varying views than you to better understand their emotions. You don’t have to know someone or be in contact with them to empathize with them.

Ask for feedback

As with many skills, feedback from others can help you improve. While asking for empathy feedback from strangers is not practical, you likely have several people in your life who are close to you. Consider asking them for feedback on your recent interactions. Did they feel like you were listening to them? Did your conversation end on a sour note if you disagreed with one another? How did they feel after talking with you? Keep their feedback in mind when you next interact with them, to help you be more self-aware during your conversation.

Practice self-reflection

Self-reflection is a powerful tool for enhancing empathy skills. Setting aside dedicated time for introspection allows you to dive into your thoughts, emotions and experiences to better understand yourself. The more in touch you are with your own emotions, the easier it is to understand those of others. You can also try journaling using thoughtful questions to uncover your underlying biases, triggers or perspectives that influence your ability to empathize. Be sure to also acknowledge and celebrate your empathy wins, such as a successful conflict resolution.

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