Want to be a mind reader?
It’s possible. Well, not in the way you might think (but it’s just as amazing and useful).
Mind reading in the meaning of this article and a study done by Biological Psychiatry Journal means “the ability to ‘read the mind’ of other individuals, that is, to infer their mental state by interpreting subtle social cues, is indispensable in human social interaction.”
How is this useful? The reasons are limitless.
- You can better know when to ask your boss for a raise
- Deciding when to kiss a girl is easier
- Connecting with others during networking is a breeze
So, what is this magical muscle that we have that allows us to be mind readers in a certain sense? Empathy.
Obviously, you don’t actually have a muscle called empathy, but, in the same way that you can use a muscle to strengthen it, you can practice empathy to strengthen that skill (which means it’s also possible to lose your ability to empathize if you’re not using it).
Empathy is actually possible because of your mirror neurons, which “give you the capacity to ‘step into another’s shoes.’”
- When you walk down the street and someone comes your way, it’s likely you will both move in the same direction even though you are trying to get out of each other’s way. This is because your mirror neurons sensed the person’s intentions and you “mirrored” their actions until your cognitive brain could engineer an opposing move that cleared the path.
- Similarly, when you observe someone reach out to a friend and they are pushed away, your brain registers the sensation of rejection… Social emotions like guilt, shame, pride, embarrassment, disgust and lust can all be experienced by watching others.
Now that we know what mirror neurons are, how can we improve our mirror neurons in order to read people better? Try these 5 techniques.
According to the Huffington Post, studies have shown that meditation could be correlated to improved empathetic responses.
Having the ability to quiet an easily distracted brain could help a person to stay in a moment and truly focus on a target.
If you’re unsure how to begin meditation, check out this awesome video done at mindfulness.org.
2. People watch
When you have a free lunch break or just an afternoon to yourself, go to a public place and people watch.
Try to see if you can read their emotions.
If this makes you uncomfortable, watch movies or read books that are full of emotion. Turn off all distractions (phone, computers, music, etc.) and really try to immerse yourself in the emotions of the characters.
3. Reflect on your own emotions
Knowing how to assess and label your own emotions is a sign of strong emotional intelligence (EI). People with a high EI are also strong in their ability to read other people.
How to improve our own emotional IQ:
- Check in with yourself often and ask how you’re feeling, and how the emotion manifesting itself in your body (tenseness, nausea, headache, etc)
- Label the emotion you’re feeling (anger, sadness, happiness, etc)
- Try to find insight. What is the trigger of this emotion? What do you need to make it better or change it?
4. Fake it ’til you make it
Sometimes faking empathy is just as important as actually feeling it.
According to David Swink when facing threat management sometimes faking empathy is the right path.
This is apparently a vital tool for hostage negotiators:
“Hostage negotiators are trained to act empathetically toward the hostage taker in order to establish the rapport necessary to influence him to give up and not hurt anyone. In fact, the negotiator most likely despises a person that would hold a woman and baby as hostages. What is interesting is that after a couple of hours many negotiators actually start to feel some empathy toward the hostage taker as a result of ‘acting’ empathetic.”
Even if you detest someone, faking empathy towards him may actually cause you to feel for his plight.
5. Suspend your judgments
This means to listen, really listen, to a person without setting firm road blocks in your mind that they are wrong, dumb, foolish, etc.
When you suspend your judgments, you’re able to really be present and give the other person your full attention.
1. What situation have you found empathy to be most useful in?
2. How have you found that learning to grow your empathy skills is useful, and why?