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 http://www.jerrystocking.com/blog

Related Reading:

The Benefits of Meditation

Everyone is a Philosopher: Mindset Matters


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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