What is Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  When talking to a friend, this means listening to their emotions and seeking to understand them.  Empathy is a continuous process and is valuable in all emotional conversations.

Ways to Show Empathy

An important part of using empathy while speaking with someone is to be an engaged listener.  When somebody is sharing their thoughts and feelings with you, it is important to give them your full attention.  Setting aside time for such conversations can be a useful way to ensure that all of your attention is dedicated to the person

Simple responses like: “Yes”, “Mhhmhmm”, and “uh huh” can show that you’re still listening to your friend while they are speaking.

One good way to use empathy during a conversation is to reflect the feelings of your friend. This is a way to paraphrase and reinforce your friends emotions. Reflective statements include:

  • Tentative Statements like “It sounds like you’re feeling..” “Would you describe your thoughts as…” and “It seems as if you feel…”

  • Using synonyms to describe your friend’s emotions

  • Relating your friends emotions to the situation, for example: Saying, ““It sounds like you feel nervous.” is less empathetic than “It sounds like you feel nervous whenever your boss walks into the office.”

Exploring a Situation Using Empathy

Exploring a situation that your friend is describing using empathy can be difficult.  These are suggestions on how to do it:

  • Asking open ended questions to allow your friend to clarify their emotions and issues

  • Identifying the most pressing problem

Alternatives to Give Your Friend

Your friend may want to develop a plan of action to address their problem.  The ideal solution to an issue is one developed by your friend with you acting as an empathetic listener.  However, at times, it may be helpful to give suggestions of ways to come up with solutions.  These are a few:

  • Write in a journal

  • Exercise

  • Read a book/magazine

  • Write a letter to someone and either do or don’t send it

  • Role Plays: help your friend work out a hypothetical conversation with someone.  You can begin by:

    • Asking your friend if they would like to practice a conversation

    • If they agree, ask your friend how they would begin the conversation

    • When your friend has answered, ask them how the other person in the conversation would respond.

Continue this until your friend feels they’re done.  It is not recommended that you pretend to be the other person in the conversation.


We have listed many great referrals to help your friend find further help.  Offering these resources may be helpful to your friend.

Remember, the most important thing you can do when having a difficult conversation with a friend is to listen with empathy.