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Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

We can cultivate empathy throughout our lives, says Roman Krznaric—and use it as a radical force for social transformation. Empathy is also one of the main techniques used in Design Thinking. Take a peek at the habits of highly empathic people below to gain some insight into how you can integrate empathy into your own life and work.

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own.

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

Highly empathic people challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them.

Habit 3: Try another person's life

So you think ice climbing and hang gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. Highly empathic people expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

Habit 4: Listen hard -- and open up

“What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.”

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but highly empathic people understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.
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