Off the Couch


Last week I talked about what empathy is and how our brains are hardwired for it.  (See: “Monkey see, monkey do“).  This week on Radio Live Tony and I discussed some research about how to increase our empathy. (Click here for audio of the interview).

Researcher Roman Krznaric has looked at what he called “Highly Empathic People” and found six habits that we can all learn from.  (Click here for the whole article).

He talks about the shift in psychology away from the introverted ideas of working on your “self” to the new wave of research that looks at how to work on relationships and empathy as moving to being “outroverted.”  These are the six habits I talked about taken from his research:

1. Cultivate curiosity about strangers

Talking to people and being open to their view of the world expands our empathy, as does engaging with people outside those we normally connect with.

2. Challenge prejudice and discover commonalities

When we challenge ourselves to engage with other groups rather than seeing all members of that group as the “same” we can find commonalities and similarities and this also increases our empathy.

3. Try another person’s life

Possibly the hardest, but when we can literally walk in anthers shoes we greatly increase our empathy.  Everyday versions are charity events like the 40 hour famine.  More extreme versions are spending a night homeless on the street, donning a “fat suit” or spending time in a wheelchair.  These experiments have helped people understand the difficulties faced by the homeless, obese or disabled.

4. Listen hard and open up

Listen with your heart, and be prepared to open up and be vulnerable.

5. Inspire mass action and social change

Stand up for what you believe in and find ways to have a voice and join movements that matter to you, whatever they might be.

6. Develop an ambitious imagination

Use your mind and imagination to empathize and try and understand the views of people you completely disagree with, and challenge yourself to empathize with your “enemies.”

And for those of you that emailed and let me know that they liked the animation in the clip last week, here’s another clip from the RSA Animate series of Roman Krznaric delivering a lecture to the Royal Society of Arts about these six habits.

Leave a Comment

  • Bets Stallard April 22, 2013, 10:41 am

    Inspirational words, and drawings!

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald April 22, 2013, 9:32 pm

      Thanks Bets.

  • Graham Willson, Advocate April 23, 2013, 2:15 am

    Kyle !! This is a bad habit that’s becoming far too common;
    Quote; “And for those of you that emailed and let me know that they
    liked …….” Those of you “WHO”……… ? Other human beings
    “with whom” we could have empathy……. People – not objects
    “that”……. Just trying to raise the standards here! Cheers,

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald April 23, 2013, 10:44 am

      Thanks Graham. Happy to have my standards raised!!

TO BUY MY NEW BOOK "Shit Happens: Lessons for Dealing with Life's Ups and Downs"... CLICK HERE