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10 Impactful Ways to Show Empathy to Others Effectively

Empathy is a well-known term, yet few know how to show a person empathy or genuinely empathize with a loved one.

Empathy is a powerful tool that allows us to connect with others profoundly, making it essential in every relationship and interaction. Understanding and sharing another person’s feelings can bridge communication gaps and foster deeper connections with our spouses, family, friends, co-workers, and even business partners. But, do you know how to show empathy effectively?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Loving husband empathizing with his wife.Empathy Is More Than Reflective Listening

Empathy isn't just about listening attentively; it requires us to truly understand and feel WITH others. It's a critical emotional intelligence skill that can enhance relationships, ease conflicts, and promote emotional health. There are three kinds of empathy, and each empathetic expression varies according to the relationship and your role.

When we show empathy, we help others feel heard and understood, which can be incredibly healing and supportive. Empathizing validates their emotions, making them feel valued and less alone in their experiences. I’ve found both in my coaching and in my personal life that sometimes people don’t even realize they’re feeling so deeply or have conflicted emotions until a person empathizes with them.

When we practice truly being present to others, we can identify their feelings even before they do!

Related reading: "Empathy vs. Sympathy: What's the Difference?"

Caring senior grandpa comforting and giving emotional support to his sad grandson .

10 Ways to Empathize Effectively

Let’s explore practical and impactful ways to show empathy, providing actionable steps to enhance your ability to connect with others meaningfully. Each one is a standalone tool that can be practiced separately, but once combined, powerfully diffuses and balances another person’s most difficult and intense emotional states, such as with anger.

These ten ways will help you be more attuned to the feelings of those around you, improving your interpersonal relationships and creating more compassion, which is so needed right now.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINALEmpathetically and reflectively listen to the person.

Give your full attention when someone is speaking. Match and mirror their body language, facial expressions, mood, and emotional intensity. Just like you might observe your own facial expressions in a mirror, reflective listening acts like a neutral mirror for another person. The more accurate you are, the more effective the response will be.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL2Use nonverbal cues to let the person know you care.

When a person shares their experience and feelings about something, sometimes, nonverbal gestures are all that is needed. During the conversation, maintain caring eye contact. Lean in to show you're engaged. Nod as they are expressing themselves. 

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL3Validate the person's feelings.

We all have a core need to be heard and understood. Validating a person’s feelings (even if you wouldn’t feel the same) is an integral part of empathy. For instance, respond with phrases such as “It sounds like…” or “That seems like it was really tough…” Substitute appropriately for the wide range of emotions and experiences.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL4Express curiosity; be interested in the person's experience.

One of the best ways to help a person feel heard is to be genuinely interested. It is also a vital component of empathy. How can you help anyone feel heard without understanding what they’re feeling?!

Too often, people are uncomfortable with emotional expression and want to “fix the problem” or make the other person feel better right away. When someone uses feeling stuffers, such as fixing, it’s easy for the speaker to feel like you don’t want to be there to listen.

People need a safe space to allow their emotional experiences to unfold naturally. Saying things like, “Tell me more about what that’s like for you” can encourage the person to open up. It also helps you gain more key information to better understand and empathize.

Learn crucial keys to effectively empathizing
with our Empathy 101 workbook.

GET STARTED NOW!Friends in a deep balcony conversation; one woman empathizing with the other.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL5Suspend judgment.

We are all unique; therefore, we experience and interpret life very differently. When a person expresses themselves, it’s a common emotional trap that dramatically inhibits our ability to empathize when the judging mind takes a front row. You might be thinking things like:

 “You’re making too big of a deal about this!”

 “Wow, talk about exaggeration; let’s get some perspective.”

“What a drama queen! (or drama king)

 “I can’t believe they’re feeling hurt over such a small thing. They need to toughen up.”

 “Is this person for real?”

“This is ridiculous… can we move on already!”

It’s human nature to judge, especially if we’re uncomfortable with emotions. However, it’s shortsighted to view someone else’s emotional expression as “inappropriate” or “ridiculously blown out of proportion” just because it’s not how we would react.

Don’t fall into this trap. For the person expressing their feelings, their emotional experience is very real in that moment.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL6Offer physical comfort (when appropriate in the relationship).

In a moment of loss, a hand on an arm or shoulder can be soothing. A comforting hug is empathetic if the person and relationship welcome it. Or an excited knuckle bounce for good news. In today’s social climate, carefully discern what’s right for your role and relationship.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL7Be patient and allow ample time.

This suggestion may seem obvious, but it is a typical misstep to get immersed in an emotional conversation and want to bail. To have patience, check in with yourself FIRST. Do you have the bandwidth to empathize? Is there ample time to help a person feel heard, or do you need to end abruptly due to schedule restraints?

If you do have adequate time, patience, and energy for a caring response, fantastic! Then, allow the people in your life the time to process and find the right words to share at their own speed.

Sometimes, all a person really needs is presence—having someone truly present dispels overwhelm.

No hurry.

No expectations.

Show them they are THE most important person to you at that moment. (And if you don’t have time, be honest. Let them know you’ll follow up with them later.) 

A businessman listening reflectively to his friend.


Express feeling encouragers.

Another face of empathy is encouragement. We’re human. We get discouraged. Feelings can make us feel crazy or inhuman. This kind of emotional empathy can take different forms.

For example, encouraging a quieter team member during meetings to speak up by saying, “We'd love to hear your thoughts,” would be empathetic. It shows you know how daunting it can be to talk in a group, especially if the person is new to the workplace or introverted.

It's also empathetic to encourage someone to take action. For instance, if you have a friend who feels hurt because they weren’t invited to a bridal shower (or a party), encourage them to express their feelings to the appropriate person, reassuring them that it was most likely an oversight.

Empathy also encourages friends or spouses to be true to themselves. Imagine you want your partner to do a home project over the weekend. However, they had a long, hectic work week and need to recharge. Encouraging them to relax is empathetic; it recognizes their need for rest and rejuvenation. Once they feel supported, they might surprise you and hop on that project once they regain their equilibrium.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL9Follow up after talking with a person.

This recommendation is frequently overlooked. We think we’ve done our part by being there for the original conversation, or we just get busy and forget. However, when you follow up with someone, it is a major emotional deposit. Try it. After a friend (or co-worker) shares a difficult, hurtful, or joyous experience, call them a few days later and check in. Amazing conversations unfold from this simple gesture.

HRT_Blog_Bullet_Template_1023_Design1_FINAL10Provide practical assistance, as needed.

One of the qualities of compassionate empathy is helping and taking action to relieve the burden or stress of another. For instance, when a neighbor is home with a sick child, offer to help by saying, “Hey, I’m going to the grocery store; why don’t I pick up some groceries for you. What do you need?” Or a co-worker is on a tight timeline for their project, and you’ve got yours wrapped up—pitch in and help. See if you can take something off their plate that will make their job easier.

Empathy Wrap-Up

The above examples demonstrate practical ways to embody empathy in daily interactions, enhance your relationships, and show genuine care and understanding.

Pick the one that resonates with you the most and practice it. Look for opportunities to show empathy. The more you use it, the more you will discover its magic. And the more you recognize its power, the more you will use it … until one day, showing empathy will be as second nature as brushing your teeth or driving a car.

For more on empathy, try our Self-Coaching Workbook to advance your skills and practice.

Yes, I want to learn to be more empathetic!

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence

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