two women supportive with one showing empathy by giving tissue in a cafe environment

Characteristics of Empathy: 12 Traits You Need to Know

"Empathy isn't just feeling with someone; it's feeling into someone. It's entering another person's world to understand where they're coming from." - Bayu Prihandito

Key Takeaways

  • Empathy is a multifaceted trait that goes beyond just understanding others; it involves active listening, emotional intelligence, and compassion.
  • Being empathetic or empathic isn't just beneficial for personal relationships; it's a crucial skill in the workplace and in societal interactions.
  • Famous quotes and real-world anecdotes remind us that empathy has been valued across cultures and eras, serving as a universal language of human connection.

Empathy... It's a word we hear often, but what does it truly mean?

It's more than just understanding someone else's feelings. It's about stepping into their shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and connecting with them on a deeper level. It's a skill, a trait, and a form of emotional intelligence that enriches our lives and the lives of those around us. In this article, we'll explore the 12 key characteristics that define empathy, and how you can cultivate them to become a better empath.

Here are the 12 characteristics of empathy:

  1. Active Listening
  2. Emotional Intelligence
  3. Compassion
  4. Open-mindedness
  5. Non-judgmental Attitude
  6. Self-Awareness
  7. Patience
  8. Humility
  9. Vulnerability
  10. Curiosity
  11. Verbal Affirmation
  12. Physical Touch

But before getting into each step, let's understand what Empathy actually is!

Understanding Empathy

two teddy bears in a green field showing empathy and care

Empathy is often mistaken for its close relative, sympathy. While sympathy is feeling for someone, empathy is feeling with someone. It's the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, not just intellectually but emotionally. It's a multi-faceted concept that encompasses various traits and behaviors, from active listening to emotional intelligence.

Empathy is not just a 'nice-to-have' quality; it's a 'must-have'! In a world where individualism often takes center stage, empathy serves as a reminder that we are all interconnected. It's crucial in personal relationships, essential in the workplace, and even has implications for global issues like social justice and environmental sustainability.

But what makes someone empathetic? Is it something you're born with, or can it be developed? The answer is a bit of both. While some people might be naturally more empathetic due to their upbringing or personality, empathy is also a skill that can be honed and refined.

Empathy Quotient and Scales

Empathy isn't just a feeling; it's a skill that can be measured. Various psychological assessments, like the Empathy Quotient (EQ) developed by Simon Baron-Cohen, offer a numerical insight into a person's empathic abilities. These assessments often use a series of questions to evaluate how well you understand others' emotions and thoughts. The EQ, for instance, ranges from 0 to 80, with higher scores indicating greater empathy.

Such scales are not just academic curiosities; they have practical applications:

  • In healthcare, professionals use them to tailor treatment plans.
  • In corporate settings, they can inform team-building and leadership development programs.

While these scales offer valuable insights, they're not definitive. Empathy is complex, influenced by a myriad of factors like upbringing, experiences, and even your current mood. Therefore, these scales should be seen as tools for self-reflection rather than absolute judgments.

12 Characteristics of Empathy

Empathy is a complex tapestry woven from various threads of understanding, emotional intelligence, and compassion. It's not just one thing; it's a combination of characteristics that allow us to connect deeply with others.

Active Listening

Ever been in a conversation where you felt like you were talking to a brick wall? Frustrating, isn't it?

Active listening is the antithesis of that. It's not just hearing; it's about engaging, responding, and showing that you care. When you actively listen, you're not just waiting for your turn to speak. You're fully present, giving the other person your undivided attention. This kind of listening fosters a sense of worth in the speaker, making them feel valued and understood. So, the next time someone's talking to you, don't just hear them out; listen—actively. It's one of the most straightforward yet powerful ways to show empathy.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is like the Swiss Army knife of interpersonal skills. It equips you with the ability to recognize, understand, and manage not just your own emotions, but those of others as well.

Imagine being in a heated argument. Emotional intelligence would help you keep your cool, understand where the other person is coming from, and even defuse the situation. It's like having a superpower that lets you navigate the emotional landscape of any social interaction. And when you can do that, you're not just being smart; you're being empathetic.


two women discussing in a group setting showing compassion

Ah, compassion—the heart and soul of empathy. It's one thing to understand someone's pain, but it's another to want to do something about it. Compassion drives us to act, to help, to make a difference. Ever held the door for someone carrying a heavy load? That's compassion in action!

It's the warm meal you make for a sick friend, the shoulder you offer for someone to cry on, or even the simple act of picking up something someone has dropped. These everyday acts of kindness are the building blocks of a compassionate life. And when you live compassionately, you're not just living; you're embodying empathy.


Open-mindedness is like having a door in your mind that's always ajar, inviting new perspectives and viewpoints to enter. When you're open-minded, you're willing to consider what others are saying, even if it challenges your own beliefs or opinions. This willingness to entertain different thoughts is a cornerstone of empathy. Why? Because it allows you to step out of your own mental bubble and into someone else's.

You see, empathy isn't just about understanding how someone feels; it's about understanding why they feel the way they do. And that's a whole lot easier when you're open to seeing things from their angle.

Non-judgmental Attitude

Let's face it; we all have our biases. But when it comes to empathy, a non-judgmental attitude is non-negotiable. Being non-judgmental means accepting others for who they are, not who we think they should be. It's like meeting someone at a crossroads and choosing to walk alongside them, without trying to steer them in the direction you think is right.

This acceptance creates a safe space where people feel they can be their authentic selves. And when people feel safe and accepted, empathy naturally follows. So, the next time you find yourself quick to judge, pause and remember that empathy thrives in a judgment-free zone.


Ever tried to fill a cup from an empty jug? Doesn't work, does it? The same goes for empathy.

To understand others, you first need to understand yourself. Self-awareness is that understanding. It's knowing your own emotions, recognizing your limitations, and being aware of how you impact others. When you're self-aware, you're better equipped to navigate not just your own emotions but those of others as well. It's like having a roadmap to the complex highway of human interaction. And when you know the way, it's easier to guide others along the path of empathy.


Ah, patience—the art of waiting gracefully. In our fast-paced world, patience often takes a back seat. But when it comes to empathy, patience is the driver. It's giving people the time and space they need to express themselves, to process their emotions, or even to make a decision. It's like planting a seed and waiting for it to grow, without constantly digging it up to check if it's sprouted yet.

When you're patient, you're saying, "I'm here for you, take your time." And that simple act of waiting can make a world of difference in showing that you truly understand and care.


Humility isn't about thinking less of yourself; it's about thinking of yourself less. It's putting others' needs and feelings before your own, not because you have to, but because you want to.

Imagine being at a dinner party. You're starving, but you let others fill their plates before you. That's humility in action. It's a small gesture, but it speaks volumes. It says, "Your needs are important to me." And when you can put someone else's needs before your own, even if it's just for a moment, you're not just being humble; you're being empathetic.


woman listening to another woman being vulnerable

Vulnerability is like opening the window to your soul and letting someone else take a peek. It's sharing your fears, your hopes, your dreams, and yes, even your failures. Why? Because it creates a two-way street of emotional exchange.

When you're willing to be vulnerable, you're not just building trust; you're inviting the other person to be vulnerable too. It's like saying, "Hey, we're all imperfect here, and that's perfectly okay." This mutual sharing and acceptance create a bond that's as empathetic as it is strong. So go ahead, open up a little. It's the key to forming empathetic bonds.


Curiosity is that itch you get to know more about someone, to dig deeper into their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Imagine you're a detective, but instead of solving crimes, you're solving people—unraveling the mysteries that make them who they are. When you're curious, you ask questions, you listen, and most importantly, you learn. This learning isn't just about gathering facts; it's about gaining a deeper understanding of someone else's world. And when you understand someone on that level, empathy isn't just possible; it's inevitable.

Verbal Affirmation

Words have power. They can build up or tear down, heal or hurt. In the realm of empathy, words are your best friends. Verbal affirmation is the act of using your words to show understanding and support. It's saying things like "I understand," "I'm here for you," or even a simple "I get it."

These phrases might seem small, but their impact is anything but. They're like verbal hugs, offering comfort and validation to someone in need. So the next time you're at a loss for what to do, remember: sometimes the most empathetic thing you can do is speak from the heart.

Physical Touch

Touch is a language all its own, one that can convey what words sometimes cannot. A hug, a pat on the back, or even a simple touch on the arm can speak volumes. But here's the catch: it has to be appropriate. The key to empathetic touch is reading the room—or in this case, the person. Some people find comfort in physical touch, while others may not. The trick is to know when and how to use it. When done right, a touch can offer comfort, show support, and even strengthen emotional bonds. It's a tactile way of saying, "I'm here, and I understand."

How to Be an Empathic Person in Different Scenarios

Empathy isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. It's like a chameleon, changing its colors to fit different scenarios. Whether you're clocking in at the office or navigating the maze of human relationships, empathy plays a crucial role. Let's break it down!

In the Workplace

Picture this: You're at work, and your colleague looks like they're having a rough day. You could ignore it, or you could be empathetic and offer a listening ear. Empathy in the workplace isn't just about being nice; it's about creating a culture of understanding and support. It's the grease that keeps the wheels of teamwork turning smoothly.

When you understand your coworkers' perspectives, you're not just a better colleague; you're a better problem-solver, a better communicator, and yes, a better human. So the next time you see someone struggling with a project or just having a bad day, remember: a little empathy goes a long way.

In Relationships

Ah, the rollercoaster of human emotions that is relationships. One minute you're flying in love, and the next, you're plummeting into the abyss. But here's the thing: empathy is your safety harness. It's what keeps you strapped in when the ride gets bumpy.

In relationships, empathy is about more than just understanding your partner's feelings; it's about validating them. It's saying, "I see you, I hear you, and what you're feeling matters to me." Whether it's a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a family bond, empathy is the glue that holds it all together.

Quotes & Anecdotes on Empathy

woman in bali going through a gate representing wisdom and freedom

Empathy is a concept that has been explored and celebrated by thinkers, writers, and leaders throughout history. Let's look into some of the most poignant quotes and real-world anecdotes.

Words of Wisdom: Famous People Quotes

"Empathy is the most precious human quality." - The Dalai Lama
"Learning to stand in somebody else's shoes, to see through their eyes, that's how peace begins. And it's up to you to make that happen." - Barack Obama

Real World Examples of Empaths

One of the most touching stories of empathy comes from the life of Princess Diana, who was known for her compassionate nature. She broke royal protocol by engaging with people that society often overlooked. One such instance was when she shook hands with an AIDS patient without wearing gloves, a simple act that spoke volumes and helped to de-stigmatize the condition.

Another compelling anecdote is that of Mr. Rogers who taught generations of children about the importance of understanding and kindness. His famous quote wasn't just a catchy song; it was an invitation to open our hearts to others!

"Won't you be my neighbor?" - Mr. Rogers

Final Thoughts

Empathy isn't just a buzzword; it's a way of life that can profoundly impact our relationships and the world around us. From active listening to vulnerability, the characteristics of empathy are diverse yet interconnected.

At Life Architekture, we focus on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and personal development, all of which are closely tied to empathy. We offer coaching programs that can help you cultivate these empathetic traits and live a more fulfilling, purpose-driven life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the three characteristics of empathy?

The three key characteristics often cited are emotional intelligence, active listening, and compassion. These traits help in understanding, relating to, and helping others.

What is the most common form of empathy?

Emotional empathy is often considered the most common form. It involves directly feeling the emotions that another person is experiencing.

How do I express empathy?

Empathy can be expressed through active listening, verbal affirmation, and sometimes even through appropriate physical touch like a hug or a pat on the back.

What are empathetic behaviors?

Empathetic behaviors include showing compassion, being non-judgmental, and taking the time to understand another's perspective before responding.

What is the core strength of empathy?

The core strength of empathy lies in its ability to build bridges between people, fostering a sense of shared humanity and mutual respect.