There are also some very practical things you can do, and most of them involve paying attention in a very deliberate way. Mirror neurons seem to require both proximity and visual cues to actually work. So make sure you’re not distracted (put down that phone!).
• To be really empathic we have to feel it. If you find yourself switching off, ask yourself why might this emotion be hard for me to feel?
• Sit facing the person. Make eye contact and try to really concentrate on looking at them, observing their words, posture and voice tone.
• Avoid distractions, don’t try and watch TV, be on your phone or listen to the radio at the same time. If you’re listening to someone, just listen.
• As discussed in a previous column, validate. Validating what we are picking up via empathy is a great way to let person know you’re (at least trying) to empathise. You don’t have to get it “right”. Often just a “close enough” attempt is enough: “I can understand you feel angry, I would too in that situation…”