Social Skills

Reading Helps You Develop Empathy, But Only If You Pick The Right Books

Emotional Intelligence, Social Skills

We all know that books make us smarter, but did you know they also help us better relate to other people?

Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, from the New School of Social Research in New York, showed that reading award-winning novels and short stories improves our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that those who read critically-acclaimed literary texts were better able to guess what others are going through.

They scored higher on tasks like the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, where participants are asked to guess the feelings being expressed by different sets of eyes in photos.

Empathy Training

According to Kidd and Castano, interpreting the thoughts and emotions of literary characters is just like trying to make sense of people in real life.

“The same psychological processes are used to navigate fiction and real relationships,” says Kidd. “Fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.”

As such, reading is great practice for real-life interactions. With added benefits: it poses fewer risks than the real world, and gives us the chance to explore the inner lives of others beyond stereotypes and convention.

Why Best-Sellers Don’t Work

But only challenging works of fiction give us the opportunity to exercise our empathy skills, researchers say.

What Charles Dickens and Charlotte Brontë can give you that Nicholas Sparks can’t? Internally unpredictable characters, implicit meanings, and multiple perspectives — a combination that engages us, as readers, in the active role of making sense of characters’ actions and the story as a whole.

“What great writers do is to turn you into the writer. In literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others,” says Kidd.

By forcing us to “fill in the gaps” and search for meanings among many possible ones, novels and stories flex our interpretation muscles. In doing so, they prepare us for the tough job of understanding  people in real life.

Marcelle Santos
Marcelle Santos
Mars turns complicated ideas into content that's easy to understand and interesting to follow. At Wonder, she's diving deep into emotional intelligence and the psychology of relationships to come up with what she hopes is useful and inspiring information for users of the Wonder app.

5 Infallible Ways to Become Even More Likable

Connection, Social Skills

Loving and accepting yourself is paramount, but being someone others enjoy having around can also help make you happier and more successful.

A Harvard study suggests that, at work, being likable matters more than being smart or competent. Researchers found that most people prefer to work with someone they like than with someone they don’t like, even if the person they don’t like could do a better job.

Scientists also have solid evidence that strong social relationships — a direct result of being able to get along with people — has been proven to increase someone’s survival odds by 50%. That’s twice as much as exercise, and just as powerful as not smoking.

So, while it’s vitally important to have a positive self-esteem, the esteem of others’ goes a long way in your health, success and happiness too.

Now, how do you increase your people skills? Here are five strategies that have been proven to work:

Expect the best
Be a social optimist and expect that the new people you meet are going to love you. You will subconsciously be more open and warmer with those you are talking to, and of course, be much more approachable.

Pay Attention
Is someone talking to you? Then sit upright, put the phone away, and make eye contact. Giving people your undivided attention will make them feel important. And everybody likes to feel important.

Don’t Brag
Are you awesome? Have you just come back from a trip around the world? Good for you, but don’t tell everyone. Research shows that self-promotion tends to backfire, and that sharing stories of your incredible adventures may actually lead to people excluding you.

Ask For Advice
When you ask people for advice, it makes them feel like experts. Never miss an opportunity to ask others for tips, whether it’s for an upcoming trip, a great place to eat, or feedback here on Wonder. They’ll love it that you thought to ask them in the first place.

Be Curious
Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested you.” So ask questions, try to really get to know people. They’ll be surprised (and delighted!) you want to know more about them.

How to give good “bad” feedback

Feedback, Social Skills

We all need honesty in our lives. Together with love, acceptance, empathy, and encouragement, honesty helps fulfill our basic human need of interdependence. Yet we rarely get the kind of honesty that empowers us and helps us learn from our limitations. Instead, we get criticism.

Criticism doesn’t tend to be helpful, and it rarely works. When our mothers tell us we dress like slobs, we may get annoyed, angry, or defensive, but we’re rarely inspired to change our wardrobe.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that criticism focuses so much on the receiver. The critic rarely tries to demonstrate how his feelings and needs are connected to what he’s criticizing, so it’s hard for the person receiving the feedback to have empathy to really listen.

So how do we give negative feedback positively? How do we give the people we care about the type of honesty they need to grow?

Marshall Rosenberg’s “nonviolent communication” teaches us to include an observation, a feeling, a need, and a request in our negative feedback, as explained below:

Observation: be specific about what you see

Giving (good) bad feedback requires paying attention. You have to be able to specifically describe what the other person is doing that is bothering you, and, if possible, to say when, where, and how. Most importantly, you have to be able to do this without judging or evaluating. Saying “You cancelled our last three dates ” is an observation, saying “You’re a flake” is an evaluation.

Feeling: show vulnerability

Identify what feelings you have about the situation. When you see the other person do the specific thing that bothers you, do you get nervous? Annoyed? Sad? Scared? Furious? Most of us have trouble figuring out how we feel. We also tend to confuse thoughts with feelings —we say things like, “I ‘feel’ like a failure” or “I ‘feel’ like this person is manipulating me” without realizing we’re not really saying how we feel. Another common mistake is to confuse our feelings with how we think others behave towards us. “Feeling” rejected, misunderstood, ignored or threatened reflects how we think others treat us, not how we feel.

Spot your exact feeling on our emotional cheat sheet

Need: recognize what you are lacking

After you identify how you truly feel, ask yourself what unfulfilled need might be at the root of that feeling. Judgments, evaluations and interpretations of others are actually expressions of personal needs not being met. For example, calling your partner “lazy” may simply mean that you need more help around the house.

Request: ask for something concrete

Once you’ve figured out what you need, it’s time to ask the person you’re giving feedback to for something specific, a concrete action. Use positive language (say what the person should do rather than what he or she should not do) and be as clear and precise as possible.

With the incorporation of observation, feeling, need and request, good “bad” feedback sounds like this:

When you cancel our plans at the last minute like you did tonight —and last Tuesday—, I’m disappointed, because I really look forward to us spending more time together. Would you be willing to set a day for us to meet every week?

When giving negative feedback, remember: your goal should not be to change the other person or their behavior to get what you want, but to develop relationships based on honesty and empathy, where everyone’s needs are met.