This has been an extraordinarily challenging year, and for many, our usual support systems and coping mechanisms have been affected. Everyone’s experience is uniquely their own and to that end, every person can benefit from expressions of solidarity and support.
In times like these, the importance of showing empathy to your loved ones cannot be understated. Of all the soft skills in the world, empathy is the one you’ll need most to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, defines the concept as entering into someone else’s personal realm or native land vicariously:
“Empathy comes from the Greek empatheia – em (into) and pathos (feeling)—a penetration, a kind of travel. It suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?”
When showing empathy to others, we aim to give them the opportunity to feel heard, a chance to truly feel supported and validated in whatever they’re feeling, and a safe space to process.
In times of uncertainty, a great way to engender empathy and show people you care is through writing. Whether you’re writing to your colleague, friend, family member, or neighbor, here’s how to kick off a supportive message with empathy and support.
1 I’ve been thinking about you lately because…
Starting off a letter or card with this sentiment will instantly let the person you’re writing to know that they are on your mind. There is something special about knowing you occupy someone else’s thoughts, especially at a distance. Let them know why you’ve been thinking about them lately—did you cook a recipe they once shared with you? Did you read an article about their favorite film director? Sharing these intimate moments will immediately establish common ground in your writing.
2 How are you feeling?
Another way to show your support from the first moment of a written note is to simply ask the other person how they are feeling. This is a staple of everyday conversation when we see friends or colleagues in-person, and it translates well to a letter. It creates the opportunity for the recipient to think and reflect on their own feelings while hearing yours—and it incites a response! Asking questions is a surefire way to keep your correspondence going and generates support straight away.
3 I appreciate you in my life so much because…
If the person you’re writing to has recently had an impact on your life, however small or large, tell them. What is it that you appreciate about your colleague? How do they make your life easier? By starting off your note of support with gratitude, the recipient will feel valued and loved. Plus, the positive effects of practicing gratitude will compound like interest, minimizing toxic emotions and helping you focus on what’s good.
4 I’m always here for you.
One more way to express empathy in writing is to tell the recipient that you are always available for support. Studies have illustrated the importance of the support that people think they can access; this type of “perceived support availability” is linked to many positive mental and physical health outcomes. You may not be solving your friend’s problem or giving your colleague a ride to work, but you are solidifying a support system for them, and offering them a source of allyship that they can use if needed. With this one simple phrase, they will know your support is readily available.