Many would argue that the world needs more empathy, cooperation and generosity – in the face of today’s challenges – and as things have become more polarized.
Conflict, promiscuity and discord seem to be on the rise, but they are likely to have a positive influence.
Recent research has shown ways to enhance empathy and behave in more supportive ways—contributing to beneficial outcomes for others and even yourself.
Good for you and others
The challenges are real in reducing cooperation and appreciation. The vast majority of people, 74%, report that positive attitudes and kindness have declined, according to a study by University of Chicago. And 84%-87% of people say they’ve worked with a toxic coworker or boss, based on data from FlexJobs.
On the other hand, when you behave in pro-social ways—by supporting, sharing, collaborating, or giving, for example—the results are very rewarding. You help others, but you also help yourself.
In fact, generosity is linked to greater happiness, satisfaction, well-being and better relationships, according to a poll conducted by The Ascent. When people were more generous,
- 81% felt a greater sense of meaning
- 74% were more satisfied with their lives
- 70% were more satisfied with their career
- 78% were more satisfied with their colleagues
- And they had more friends (3.2 friends compared to 2.6 friends of the least generous)
It pays to behave with empathy and pro-social approaches.
Think about your impact
One of the first things you can do to be more compassionate and behave pro-socially is to try to understand how your behavior will affect someone else. In fact, 60% of people want to understand the results of their actions, according to a study published in Psychological Bulletin.
The survey asked people if they wanted to know how their actions would affect others. For those who chose not to know, they did so to act more selfishly. But most people wanted to do the right thing for others, based on full knowledge of the consequences of their choices. This was partly motivated by social pressure and how others would view them, but also based on their esteem and desire to see themselves in a positive light.
When making decisions, be intentional about how your actions will affect others. Doing the right thing may involve investing time, money or effort, and when you consider the consequences of your choices, it will tend to motivate more positive, empathetic behavior.
Think small—whether you let the person with fewer items go ahead of you in line—or think big about buying products that affect people or resources, for example. But be intentional about considering the consequences for all kinds of your choices every day.
Read Other People
Another way to enhance empathy and cooperation is to focus on developing your skills in reading and responding to other people. In psychology, this is referred to as Theory of Mind. Essentially, it is the ability to understand and take another person’s point of view. It is advisable to tune in to the other person, understand where they are coming from, make assumptions about their intentions and imagine their feelings.
A study at the University of Birmingham found that when people had stronger skills in reading others, they were more successful at working together to complete tasks. The skill worked with one skilled person working with another, and had exponentially positive results when two skilled people worked together.
Pay attention to others, look for signals of their emotions, imagine what they might be going through and guess what they want – and then respond in constructive ways. Known as social knowledge, these skills can improve your relationships both professionally and personally.
Imagine the agony
Another way to reinforce your behaviors with empathy is to focus on distress. In fact, when people could more vividly imagine someone else’s pain, challenges, or suffering, they were more likely to offer help and support and more likely to take it upon themselves to solve problems, according to research published in the journal. Emotion.
Through the struggles you imagine, you don’t have to take on the pain yourself—as that could erode your own well-being and ability to help—but you can visualize enough to motivate your own pro-social contributions.
Ask questions and try to find out what people are dealing with, and then get their point of view and test the emotions they must be feeling. These will help move you into action.
Make an impact
The world may indeed need more empathy, cooperation, and generosity—and you can make a big impact, even with small actions. The primary way people learn is by watching, listening, and experiencing others. As a result, you have more impact than you may realize, just based on the choices you make and the way you interact with others.