Recognizing the feelings & needs of others is the first step towards empathy & connection.
Can you know, by looking at this photo of a box, what is inside?
Just like a box can be holding all kinds of different things, a person can be holding all kinds of different things.
What someone is feeling is not always obvious, but there are things to pay attention to that will help you recognize another person's feelings & needs.
Notice their body language
Body language is how we communicate without talking.
Try to read what the other person is communicating (without talking) by paying attention to the following:
Their face: eye contact & expressions. What is your amount of eye contact? Are they smiling or frowning? Are they blinking a lot or a little?
Their body: movements & posture. What hand gestures are they making? Are they nodding or shaking the head? Is their body hunched over or straight? Are their arms open or crossed?
Other clues: aspects of their voice & physiological changes. How quickly are they speaking? Is their speech high or low pitched? Are they sweating or blinking rapidly?
A colleague is talking to you about a frustration they are having at work. What is one way you can better understand what they are feeling?
Show sensitivity to their feelings & needs
When you become aware of someone's feelings, it can help you understand their needs.
How you respond to someone's needs and feelings depends on your relationship with the person, and the cultural/social context that you're in.
Ask yourself: how would I want this person to respond to me if I was feeling what they are feeling?
Recognizing the feelings and needs of others takes a conscious effort. With practice, though, this skill will deepen your connection with those around you and foster empathy.
Now that you've learned some tips for recognizing the feelings and needs of others, try to put them into practice.
During your next conversation, note three things about the other person's body language. What is being communicated by what they're not saying?
Focusing during a conversation will help you recognize the feelings and needs of the other person. This in turn, will strengthen your interpersonal skills, helping you form more genuine connections with the people around you.
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This Byte has been authored by
Graduate Student in International Education at New York University