Your relationship with others determines much of your happiness and success in life. How you get along with coworkers, bosses, family, friends, and romantic partners often depends on your social skills, and at the root of good social skills is one thing: empathy. Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings and experiences of another. In other words, empathy is imagining yourself in someone else’s skin: feeling what they feel and seeing yourself and the world from their point of view. As the character Atticus Finch says in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Empathy adds depth to the love you feel for others. With empathy, you see those you love for who they are, not whom you imagine or wish them to be. You appreciate them for their qualities, not just what they do for you, and you acknowledge that even when you share the same experience, you may have different thoughts and feelings. Without empathy, you might assume that their needs, boundaries, and experiences are the same as yours and as a result, you can make assumptions that get you into trouble.
Empathy comes more easily to some, but it’s possible to learn it even if you’re not the most naturally empathetic person. To learn empathy, try this exercise: