A secret desire for virtually every human being on this planet is to be seen as attractive by others. I’m not just talking about physical appearance, either.
Attractive [uh-trak-tiv]: A pleasing quality that draws people toward it.
We’d all love for others to be drawn to us like a magnet, to seek us out, to want to be with us, to hang on our words, laugh at our jokes… at least by the people we want to be with.
Can you relate?
We go to great lengths in a number of ways to accomplish this:
- Outer bodies: Botox, implants, makeup, personal grooming, working out, dieting, getting our hair/clothes just right, etc.
- Achievement: Leading to status, fame, or wealth (which attracts people)
- Personalities: People pleasing, being what we think others want us to be (chameleon syndrome) so they like us more.
What is usually overlooked are attractive qualities that radiate from the inside out. These character qualities can draw people toward us… or repel them from us.
Empathy is a powerful inner quality that can help you be a magnet that draws people toward you… and increases their desire to be in your orbit.
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own. ” – Henry Ford
Thankfully, this undervalued people skill can be increased in your life… opening many new doors to a meaningful life with tremendous impact.
Read on to learn 5 ways to improve your empathy skills… and 5 things NOT to do that you might think are helpful (trust me, they aren’t).
What Empathy Is (and Isn’t)
Before defining empathy, let me say this: Although empathy can and should be exercised in both the highs and lows of life, it is particularly powerful when someone is going through a challenging situation. That is the focus of this article.
To better understand what empathy is (and isn’t), let’s use the image offered by researcher Brene Brown: someone suffering in a dark pit. All they can see and sense at that moment is the pit and the darkness all around.
Empathy climbs down into the pit with the person and says in effect, “I’m sure it’s difficult right now in the pit… but you are not alone.”
Sympathy or pity, in contrast, calls down into the pit “I’m sorry you are down there” but doesn’t go down into the pit to sit with the person. It prefer to stay at arm’s length.
The empathetic person chooses to connect with something within themselves that can relate to the feeling the other person is experiencing.
In contrast, the sympathetic person may even be sorry about what the other person is going through, but they don’t want to feel what the other person is feeling.
Empathy seeks to enter the other person’s perspective. You may not fully understand or share their perspective. You may not even know what to say… but you enter the other person’s pit nonetheless.
This pit isn’t always caused by a traumatic event (divorce, death, loss of job, etc.). It can also be fears and worries we are carrying, or frustrations and disappointments that are a part of life. Empathy can help you through these challenges, too.
You become VERY attractive to others when you exercise empathy. They will seek you out and eagerly welcome you into their world… because you help them bear their burdens.
Empathy enhances connection.
Sympathy promotes disconnection.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. ― Henri Nouwen
Ok, let’s say you truly care and want to help them. What should you say to the other person that can help them?
That’s often where we mess up. Rarely does what you say at that moment really help. In fact, it can make it worse and pushes the other person away.
Here are 5 things NOT to say… because they can kill connection and support.
5 Ways to Speak That DON’T Help Others
1. Turn the spotlight on yourself. Yep, we’ve all done this one: “Oh, yah… I know how you feel… I remember a time when I blah, blah.” I know you think this helps connect you to the person because of a relatable experience, but rarely does your experience match someone else’s. Remember, it’s NOT about you.
2. Fix It. Men are particularly guilty of using this approach. “Did you try…? What about… ? Have you considered…?” Yes, there is a place for problem solving, but not at first. Sometimes, you just need someone to bear the burden with you… by listening, caring, and understanding.
3. Tell them to think and feel differently. We’ve all done this… resorting to the “just snap out of it” mode. We use phrases like, “cheer up!” or “let it go” as though there is a switch they can hit and immediately change things. It’s not that simple, or easy, especially when you are the one being affected.
Sure, there is a place to address what the other person is focusing or dwelling on, but not at first. There is wisdom in giving a person time to process their feelings… and feel understood. Consider this wisdom: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. -Romans 12:15
When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air. -Stephen R. Covey
4. Start a sentence with “At least…” Oh, I am sooo guilty of this one. My daughter once told me when I did this, “that doesn’t help. In fact, it is frustrating to hear.” You know how this goes…
- “I didn’t get that promotion I was counting on”… At least you still have a job.
- “My son is being rebellious and difficult”… At least your daughter is making better choices.
- “I got laid off at work and am worried about how I will pay my bills.”… At least you are young with lots of options.
I know that when you use “at least” you are trying to help the other person see a silver lining and see the positive side. But, what you are saying to them, in effect, is “you’re not seeing correctly, let me remind you of “the truth”. People want to be heard and understood, not corrected.
5. It will all be ok. This is our attempt to reassure the person it won’t always be as bad as it feels right at that moment. But this is presumptuous. How do you know it won’t get worse before it gets better? Or take a long time before things get better?
When you say things like this, you are in effect trying to dismiss the other person’s current reality because you believe their fortunes will change in the future. Instead, you need to acknowledge the reality of the present… and let the person work through it.
All 5 of these “trying to be helpful” approaches will cause people to avoid you.
A Better Approach to Interacting With Others
Instead of trying to help the other person with your words and perspective, say less and focus on helping them feel heard and understood.
“It must be so hard right now. I can’t imagine. But, I’m there for you. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
At that moment, for that person, this empathetic approach will do far more than your words can.
Being an empathetic person will make you a highly attractive, popular, sought out person. The good news is empathy is like a muscle that can be developed with intentional effort.
What can you do to grow your abilities in this highly influential area?
5 Ways to Increase Your Empathic Abilities
1. Have the right motivation. You can’t just add this “skill” because it will help you in life (relationships, work, school), and others will be drawn to you. You can’t approach an others-focused skill with a self-serving focus. “This quality will help me, so I will do the right actions and say the right things.”
You have to genuinely desire to connect with and encourage others. You truly have to care about what the other person is going through. If you don’t, pray to God that he changes your heart toward them.
2. Slow down and tune in. You need to be in the right mental and emotional place to pick up signals others are giving off. The hectic pace of life can hinder your ability to tune in and connect with others. In fact, read here about how a “too busy” life is actually undermining the very life you deeply long for.
To truly connect with others, you must intentionally slow down so you can sense the signals AND give off a calm, patient vibe that helps others feel like you have time to listen.
“Big egos have little ears.” Robert Schuller
3. Don’t avoid pain and discomfort. You must be willing to stretch yourself and put yourself in uncomfortable places if you truly want to understand and connect with others. This includes being exposed to books, movies and conversations that reveal how others experience and process the difficulties of life. You might even consider enlarging your emotional vocabulary.
Before you can put yourself into the shoes of others,
you need to cultivate larger, different shoes for yourself.
Warning: If you typically live at arm’s length from the emotional arena (avoiding your own emotions and those of others), you cannot connect and help others.
4. Focus on your common humanity. You don’t have to fully experience what the other person is experiencing to connect with them.
For example, you may be a man and have never suffered a miscarriage. But, you have experienced the devastating pain of having one of your hopes and dreams unexpectedly taken away. If you can’t personally relate to the other person’s experience, focus on the common feeling, not the specific event, to better enter the shoes of the other person.
5. Talk less, listen more (be curious). People wanting and needing empathy need to know you care and understand how difficult things are for them at that moment.
Try adopting a curiosity mindset that seeks to draw the other person out AND be heard/understood. To do this, you can ask questions.
Draw others out:
- Then what happened?
- How did that make you feel?
- What are you going to do? What are your options at this point?
Help them feel heard & understood:
- Oh, wow, that sounds terrible
- You’re in a tough spot here.
- I wish you didn’t have to go through that.
- That hurts me to hear that.
- No wonder you’re upset.
- That would make me mad too.
- That has got to be so frustrating.
- That sounds very scary.
- I would have been disappointed by that, too.
- I would be asking the same questions as you are.
- What I admire most about what you’re doing is…
Questions like these will go a long way to help the other person feel heard, understood and cared for. They will be grateful you took the time, didn’t try to fix them or the problem, but just connected on deeper levels to support them where they currently are.
It is at that point, after they feel heard, that you are in a position to help them see things differently and positively move forward.
Growing In Your Influence & Attractiveness
Do you want to be a more influential person because you possess attractive inner qualities? Read and bookmark the following articles:
- Self-Awareness, Blind Spots & the Johari Window – 5 Ways to Better Understand Yourself, and Grow Your Influence.
- Intellectual Humility: a Rare Yet Powerful Trait to Have – Research reveals how cultivating this trait can unlock greater success
- Emotional Intelligence: 4 Benefits From This Difference Maker Skill
- Two Powerful Words That Can Change Your World – Research verifies 31+ benefits to your life by having this inner attitude.
- Growing More Fearless – 5½ Reasons Why Regularly Leaving Your Comfort Zone Is Worth It
What helped (or didn’t help) you when you needed to be heard and understood? Leave a comment below.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.