If you find yourself feeling as though you are unable to form meaningful connections with others, you are not alone.

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be especially difficult to feel truly heard and understood. The struggle to build genuine, intimate relationships with peers, coworkers, and even friends and family can seem insurmountable.

Research suggests that with patience and practice, it is possible to learn how to deeply connect with others.

Harvard psychiatrist Helen Riess believes the key to creating meaningful relationships lies with developing empathy. Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand and share the feelings of another person. Dr. Riess’ research shows that empathy can be developed over time and taught to others.

Consider the seven essential skills necessary for developing empathy and improving your interpersonal relationships along the way.

Make Eye Contact

One of the easiest things we can do to improve our connections with others is to make eye contact while speaking with and listening to them.

In a world where so much is done digitally, holding meetings in-person and conversing face-to-face will give your relationships a boost. Taking the time to actually meet up with someone—and maintaining eye contact while you do—will help you to feel more deeply connected.

Engage Facial Muscles

Paying attention to facial muscle expressions can also help strengthen your relationships and increase your ability to empathize.

In her research, Dr. Riess discusses how our brains are wired to automatically mimic genuine facial expressions. If you are conversing with someone and they begin to smile, you will most likely smile back. Understanding how to use facial muscles when we interact with others can help make those interactions more genuine, which in turn improves our ability to empathize.

Use Body Language

Our body language can say as much about our feelings as our spoken words. When we interact with others, the way we are postured and presented can drastically impact our ability to empathize and understand. 

Dr. Riess encourages sitting up tall, turning your body toward your peers, leaning forward during conversations, and sitting at eye level. Maintain a posture that is confident yet approachable to encourage meaningful and sincere interactions.

Tune Into Feelings

A person’s current emotional state will play a large role in whether communications will be successful. Understanding how a person is feeling in that moment is absolutely crucial to learning empathy, as it is impossible to understand or relate to something you are unable to even recognize.

Most humans are incredibly perceptive and able to quickly pick up on the emotions of their companions. Something Dr. Riess credits to millions of years of cognitive development. 

Strike the Right Tone of Voice

The way we say something can become even more important than what it is we are actually saying. Striking the right tone of voice promotes communication and connection.

While working to develop empathy, pay close attention to your “prosody,” which is the scientific term for your vocal pace, pitch, and rhythm. Speak deliberately, being mindful of your audience and being sensitive to their situations and needs.

Hear the Whole Person

Being a strong listener is generally the much more difficult half of being a good conversationalist. A strong listener must contain their natural tendencies to speak up and to focus on their point of view.

Hearing the whole person requires truly listening and seeking to understand without dwelling on our own emotions or judgments. Developing empathy takes time and practice, but it can be done with patience. 

Respond positively and effectively

Recognizing the impact that your response and emotions can have on others is one of the fundamental steps toward developing empathy.

How you feel affects how people around you will feel. So, actively work on keeping your negative reactions in check. Responding positively and effectively to others helps them to feel more validated and you to grow more empathetic.

Obviously, learning to get along with anyone is not easy, but Dr. Riess’ research teaches us that it is indeed possible.

If you are struggling with developing empathy and connecting to others, I can help you in your journey with relationship therapy. Contact my office today to schedule an initial consultation.