Do you want to improve the relationships you have with others in your workplace? Getting along with others and forging strong teams is something that comes easily to some while others may struggle. There are a number of aspects that make up interpersonal relations, along with factors that affect the dynamics of those relationships. Being able to empathize, or feel what others are feeling, with others is a major contributor to the formation and success of relationships. Learning how to put yourself in their shoes can increase the number of successful relationships you develop and help you to maintain harmony within those connections. Consider these suggestions to increase your empathy with the intention of gaining compassion and understanding to facilitate growth.

Shift Your Focus

It’s easy to get caught up on our own issues in the fast pace of everyday life. Sometimes we do this to the extent that it can be detrimental to the ways in which we interact with the significant people in our lives. It’s okay to get caught up in your own issues occasionally. However, if you feel that you have become prone to a pattern of self-involvement at the expense of your interpersonal relations, you’ll need to take proactive action to make some substantial changes. Shifting your focus to others rather than yourself takes practice, but it will get easier. Start by making a concerted effort to ask about the welfare of at least one person each day and to listen to them with intention. In addition, if the person with whom you’re interacting gives you a simple one-word answer such as “Fine,” ask leading questions to encourage them to elaborate. For example, you could enquire about a significant other in their life or ask how their studies are going. If there doesn’t appear to be resistance, take time to engage with them, and give them your undivided attention.

Look for Nonverbal Cues

Another way to build those empathy muscles is to watch for body language in your encounters with folks in your life. It’s easy to miss such things as a frown or a furrowed brow when we’re walking purposefully to our next destination or intent on our cell phone. Be more mindful of viewing your surroundings so that you’re more apt to notice significant signals in others. These things are easier to catch in one-on-one conversations, but can still be overlooked. Watch for crossed arms when talking to a co-worker. This could indicate they are closed off to what you’re saying. Glancing around might mean they’re in a hurry to leave or are bored. Congratulate yourself when you make an observation that you would probably have missed in the past.

Make It Relevant

It can be difficult to wrap your head around the experience of another, especially if you haven’t had such an experience in your own life. If you try hard enough, it’s likely you can think of a situation you’ve gone through that is similar. Thinking of things that are relevant to you doesn’t mean making the issue all about you. Taking the focus from another’s problem and placing it on yourself by saying things like, “I know exactly how you feel,” or “I don’t get why that even matters. I’d just let it go,” shows that you don’t understand what they’re going through and that you’re not really interested in doing so. Such an attitude can cause resentment on the part of the other person and destroy chances of coming together in the future. Instead, try to think of something in your own world that can compare. Don’t necessarily tell them about it. Again, remember this is their time, as they are the ones suffering. However, by internally relating their problem to something you can personally understand, you’re eliciting feelings of solidarity and compassion within yourself. You can then make a statement or gesture that demonstrates your empathy such as a simple, “I’m so sorry. What can I do?” or by giving them a hug.

Be a Mirror

An effective technique used in psychology known as “reflection” can be used to demonstrate empathy and to increase connections between people. The way it works is to “reflect” back to someone the statement they just told you. Rather than simply rewording their statement, you’ll want to share with them the ways in which you think their current situation makes them feel. You might say to a friend who is complaining about her child’s poor school behavior, “It sounds like you’re frustrated by his lack of motivation in school. You’re probably also worried that he will get behind, causing him to continue to struggle.” Developing this kind of statement takes word on your part because it requires you to once again employ shared human experience to think about how you would feel if someone disappointed you in a comparable way. The effort pays off because it takes you out of your own head, provides you with insight into the world of another, and strengthens the connection between you through the exchange.

These are just a few strategies to improve your ability to put yourself in another’s shoes. With some practice, you’ll find empathy to be more natural and your relationships will be stronger.