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How to Use Empathy in Friendship

by Alizah Scherr

Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else is feeling. Showing empathy is one of the most important traits in building and maintaining relationships. Empathy allows others to feel understood and cared for. It can strengthen an already existing friendship and help forge a new one. Using empathy in friendships is an important skill to learn. In a 2007 study published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, Minet de Wied and colleagues found that higher levels of empathy are related to lower levels of conflict and higher levels of problem solving within friendships. There are several different ways to express empathy in in a friendship.

Use nonverbal body language that expresses to your friend that you are paying attention to her. Maintain eye contact, do not cross your arms or tap your foot and lean inward when your friend is talking. These signals will show your friend that you are focused on her and care about what is being said. Appearing distracted - even if you are not - may come across as selfish or uncaring.

Rephrase what your friend has just told you but make sure to use different wording. This shows that you were truly listening and understand the message that he is trying to impart. It will also help clear things up in the event that you did not fully grasp what your friend was trying to say, and prevent future miscommunication.

Verbalize how you believe your friend is feeling. A phrase such as "it sounds like you are feeling ..." followed by an accurate emotion shows your friend that you truly understand. This core concept of empathy is important because sharing feelings with a friend strengthens the bond of friendship. Your friend may stop expressing feelings to you if she thinks you don't comprehend what she is saying.

Explain that you understand why your friend would feel that way. Relate your friend's current feeling to a situation in your own life that caused a similar emotion in you and talk about how you handled it. Showing your friend that you have been through similar situations and felt the same way will further emphasize what you have in common and help strengthen the bond of your friendship.

Tip

  • Check in every now and then to see how your friend is doing. This will help reinforce the fact that you care. Even the smallest gesture, such as sending a text, will show your friend that you are thinking of him.

About the Author

Alizah Scherr has worked as a professional school counselor in a public school system for more than five years. She has a master's degree in education and is certified as a counselor.

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