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3 Steps to Mastering Empathy

I love vacation don’t you? I love it so much that I have found a way to have loads of vacation time anytime I want.

I’m not flying all over the place though, and I don’t need to keep a carry-on packed. I can have a vacation anytime I am with anybody.  It is simple and with some practice you too can be having vacations regularly.

The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. What it doesn’t say is that empathy provides one of the best, shortest and most intimate vacations you can have.

Years ago I was training in something called Neuro-linguistic training.  It is interesting stuff and it is all about how your brains work, how you think and why some people get really good at things while other people don’t. NLP provides a blueprint for excellence which, in my opinion, along with vacations, is something that we all need more of.

Using NLP I have discovered a short route to empathy. And I can teach it to you really quickly. The more you practice the steps to empathy the better you will get at it and the more naturally and easily you will be able to step out of your world and into the world of another person. One of the amazing things about practicing empathy is that it not only helps you connect with another person it reveals many more resources in yourself.

Empathy Explained

There are three steps to mastering empathy.

The first step is really easy and fun too. Step outside yourself, do this by putting your attention outside of yourself and on someone else. You can do this by listening to someone carefully while looking at them. You can, as your attention shifts, begin your vacation. Your worries will melt away and so will any social discomfort or performance anxiety. You can only be nervous or worry if your attention is on yourself.

Get your attention off of yourself and you are well on your way to having a little inter-personal vacation through getting to know another person. Practice shifting your attention outside of yourself. You can put in on another person or a book or a tree, you can put in on anything you want. Throughout your day your attention is often split between being inside of you and outside of you. For the first step toward empathy you intentionally shift it onto something else. Actually, for the sake of practicing empathy, onto someone else.

You can shift your attention to someone you know well or a stranger. It is often easier to start with someone you don’t know well. That way you won’t have as many opinions about them or shared experiences with them. It is just easier that way.

The second step into the unlimited vacation that empathy provides is to ask yourself three questions. Begin by asking yourself one of these questions and notice what happens. The three questions are:

What does this person think?

What does this person feel?

How is this person holding his or her body right now?

Imagine what the person you have shifted your attention to is thinking. You don’t have to answer the question, just get curious about what they might be thinking. While curiosity might have killed the cat it made the human being much more interesting and interested. Get curious about what this other person is thinking.

Curiosity enhances the path to empathy. If you come up with answers to the question about what are they thinking celebrate, you are well on your way. Then ask yourself what they are feeling. It t isn’t important to come up with a specific answer, just being curious is the first step to empathy.

The third question is a little different in that as you notice how the person is sitting or standing you adopt a little bit of their body position. If their arms are crossed you might cross your arms. If their head is cocked or they are leaning forward you join them by turning your head or sitting forward. Adopting a similar position to someone else increases empathy greatly. You might even want to begin your play with empathy by adopting their physical position first and then asking yourself what they are thinking or what they are feeling.

It is possible that when you ask yourself what they are thinking or feeling you come up with the answer “I have no idea what they are thinking or feeling.” This is natural at first but it won’t take you long to begin tapping into their their thoughts and feelings. The more you practice empathy using these three steps and getting curious about each of the three questions the more vacations you will have and the more fun it will be to move on to step three.

Step three is really simple and can be surprisingly rewarding. Step three is to shift your attention away from them and back to yourself. In other words, step three is returning home with your attention.

When you bring your attention back inside you will discover that you have not only had a vacation but learned something about the world another person lives in. You will, probably, be glad to be back home but at the same time be glad that you had your little trip.


You can practice empathy anywhere anytime. By doing so you will get a vacation and you will get to know more about yourself and another person. You will have also given someone attention, which is a very nice reward for them. And you will benefit by practicing moving your attention on purpose.

In our fast paced world attention is something people often don’t get enough of. The simple empathy exercise strengthens your ability to put your attention where you want it. As you practice the empathy you will become the master of your own attention. So not only do you get a vacation but you come back with new skills and strengths that will help you many times a day.

Jerry Stocking is a personal growth author and workshop leader. He has helped people from all walks of life transform their relationships, careers and personal lives. At the root of all of his advice is the idea that life works best when we don’t take it too seriously. To learn more about how to Lighten Up and Let Go and get more done with less work, visit Jerry’s blog at

Related Reading:

The Benefits of Meditation

Everyone is a Philosopher: Mindset Matters

36 Responses to 3 Steps to Mastering Empathy

  1. Pingback: Confidence and Competence: The Twins « A playground for everyone interested in Self Discovery, The Enneagram & Enlightenment

  2. Sophy says:

    Once again Jerry – thank you for your work :)
    Your attention exercises always help me discover a different part of me – every time.
    Without fail.
    I’m going to take a vacation right now . Thank you

  3. Jerry Stocking says:

    I’m always glad to help Sophy. A little empathy goes a long way. Enjoy the vacation would ya?

  4. Janet Marie says:

    I wish I would have had access to Jerry’s work 30 years ago.  Finally I found someone who knows HOW to help me with self-worth, communication, relationship, and much more.  Finding Jerry was like finding a treasure chest at the bottom of the ocean filled with gems.  It’s like finding the secrets to the Universe with every tool and technique, that actually work, available anytime, anywhere.  I am not easy to please.  I am now flexible, fun, and walk around with a smile on my face most of the time.  And I feel sexy too. :))

  5. Annette says:

    Can’t help but love Jerry Stocking!

  6. Charlie says:

    Useful article. Thanks for the practical steps to empathy. I’m going to practice today.

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  8. Dr John says:

    Thanks, Jerry.  This works everywhere from the check-out line, to the airport, to the ER!

  9. jordan says:

    What a great article. I feel like I  took a little vacation just reading it! It’s so easy to get caught up in things and forget how simple it can be to feel more connected with other people… and take yourself less seriously! 

    I’ve done a bunch of courses with Jerry Stocking and  he has so many super simple exercises and games like this – that take only minutes and  can allow you to find out all kinds of stuff about yourself, and about the people, and to lighten you up. Thanks Jerry! 

  10. Wendy Love says:

    I enjoyed this article. What a unique idea, a trip into empathy! Have just found your site and am looking forward to see how I can apply some of your concepts to depression. I have subscribed!

  11. Docresults says:


    Deeper in the knowing of self, always you are taking us. You Master Jedi of the Mind.
    To Your Best,
    Dr. Vetter –

  12. Edwin Rutsch says:

    May I
    suggest a  further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.

    The Center for
    Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and
    information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles,
    conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and
    much more about empathy and compassion.

    I posted a link to
    your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world

  13. Edwin Rutsch says:

    May I
    suggest a  further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.

    The Center for
    Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and
    information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles,
    conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and
    much more about empathy and compassion.

    I posted a link to
    your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world

  14. Judson9 says:

    Thank you so much for suggesting these. We appreciate it a lot!

  15. Jamie says:

    Thanks Jerry. I found this immensely useful when applying it to my sales job today. Look forward to seeing how future applications work. 

  16. Thanks Jerry, a nice little exercise to use to get closer to the people we care about or would like to

  17. Jerry Stocking says:

    Ahhhhhhhh, depression Wendy. I have a very fond spot in my heart for depression. It makes life almost impossible, it can make getting out of bed seem like too big a thing and it can turn thoughts so far down. But at the same time it softens us, opens us and reminds us of the Yin side of things.
    Thanks for subscribing, feel free to drop me an e-mail and I will send you a free book.

  18. Janet Marie says:

    I have never met, specialists included, who can guide me through the depths
    of depression as compassionately and effectively as Jerry.   And I’ve been to
    the border.

  19. Dewy says:

    That’s something like the speed exercise in the pilgrimage books (written by Paulo Coelho) I do that every once in a while it’s fun in fact,,thanks alot great article,,:)

  20. Jbudney says:

    Hi Jerry,

    Thanks for writing this. It was just this year that I got a sense of this. At some point, it occurred to me how self-centered I was…that my attention rarely moves off myself and that even when it is on someone else, it is strongly influenced by my opinions and perception of who I think they are…relative to who I think I am, that no relating exists and that it’s pretty distorted. 

    I find myself  curious and desiring to REALLY know someone else probably for the first time ever…who are you? what is it like to be you…and REALLY trying it on. I find that when I do try it on, I get more tender, I love more and my fear drops away…conversations in my head settle and I am more in my body. Shucks, that only took 10 years and lasts for less than a minute in my awareness but lingers like the rings on the water when I read this. What a gift it is that you write and invite me to take another look. How does one say thank you to that, huh? :-)

    …and as I went to write this, I almost forgot…got so busy in the writing, that I forgot to read this while trying YOU on…getting you, appreciating you…much to feel and an invitation to being delighted in this world of ours…liberating and humorous…

    Much Love,
    Jennifer B.

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  22. Martin K. says:

    Nice tips. I think that it’s very important to master empathy if one wants to improve his social skills and become a master communicator. By the way, can you recommend a book that would be a good introduction to NLP?

  23. Hey Martin,

    The first book I ever read on NLP and in my opinion the absolute best introduction to NLP is “Frogs into Princes” by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. Even if you had never heard of NLP before, after you have finished reading this book, you will have a pretty good understanding of the basics and the philosophies behind NLP’s creation. In other words, it will completely transform how you think about how you think.

    Also check out my blog. I write about how to use NLP to become more present and self aware. It is a bit like classic NLP on Zen steroids.

  24. wow, that is so amazing. I never had dificulty with empathy metter but now i think about how many peaple do, and how they live withouth a thought….thank you

  25. Zoe says:

    I forgot about taking the attention OFF myself! The relief of doing that feels pretty good. I works!  And at the same time, I Do delight in looking at other people and wondering “What makes them tick?” Putting attention on the other is a fun/worthy exploration. 

  26. Jerry Stocking says:

    Thanks Dewy, unfamiliar with the pilgrimage book but will look them up.

  27. Jerry Stocking says:

    With a little practice Empathy can be so very rewarding. Remember making yourself wrong for having your attention on yourself is more attention on yourself. Celebrating by visiting the world of another is a great treat.

    Worth remembering too that anything you learn about yourself is good news, because it is something you learned about yourself. Doesn’t matter what it is, thank goodness.

  28. Jerry Stocking says:

    Worth noting too that empathy has us meet aspects of others that mirror parts of ourselves we haven’t met yet. Practicing attention in, then attention out can be a very useful part of empathy. You will find more about this at my blog.

  29. Jesskjorstad says:

    Thanks  Jerry,   Merry Christmas  and Happy New Year.     Jess

  30. Pingback: Confidence and Competence: The Twins

  31. Marianna says:

    Amazing. I practice this on my long escalator lines, and sometimes the other person fidgets or something slightly changes in the air. It feels like a vacation to magic-land.

  32. Jjackrn says:

    Before I met Jerry Stocking I used to think everyone put their attention on others the way I did.  I spend a lot of time in “other” being a health care provider.  I have had to learn to focus my attention on “self” in order for me to grow.  It was fascinating for me to realize other people live in “self” and some never go to “other”.  He’s right about empathy and the vacation.  I had a vacation just reading the article.  Thanks Jerry.

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