The Empathy Effect

The Empathy Effect

Empathy is a special ingredient for building strong friendships and safe, welcoming spaces for us all to belong to. It is empathy that helps us to understand and appreciate that everyone in the room comes with their own unique life story; their own fears, gifts, experiences, and interests.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” before… but what does that really mean and how does it help you to deepen your connections with people?

Let’s run with the metaphor (s’cuse the pun), just for a moment. Imagine you have a favourite pair of shoes. They fit you really well, they’re comfortable and they just make you feel confident and ready for the day! Well, let’s say that you decided to wear your neighbours shoes for the morning. You might experience something else – maybe they’re too big, or too small, for you. Maybe they’re uncomfortable, or they have a hole in the toe that lets the rain in! Come midday, you give the shoes back… and you’ve learnt something about what it’s like to be your neighbour, even just for a moment.

The same thing can happen with our thoughts, emotions and experiences. We all have our own unique way of seeing the world. When we “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes,” we try to imagine what it’s like to be in their situation, to see things from their point of view. It’s like trying on their shoes to see how they fit! 👟👠🥾

When we learn to appreciate that everyone we meet has a different perspective and life experience, we can enter into new situations with kindness, curiosity and an openness to connect without judgment. And while empathy is often associated with close friends and family, it’s also key to building deeper bonds with strangers.

A generous community member once shared this with us, in response to a question about the impact of meeting new people through the Befriend Community.

“I feel more empathy for others, I feel more human. It’s a strange thing that by meeting so many more people who are quite different to me, I somehow feel more normal.  I’m much better at spotting the shared humanness I have with others now.  Which makes me much less anxious about meeting new people in general!”

So, the next question you might have is… how can we be more empathetic towards strangers and use this superpower to make new connections? 

 

Here are some practical tips that you can try the next time you’re trying to connect with someone you don’t know all too well:

 

1. Smile and make eye contact

A warm smile and eye contact can go a long way towards showing someone that you’re interested in what they have to say. It may seem like a small gesture but something really special can happen when we’re holding an active space for someone to share. 

Research shows that our self-worth gets a little boost when we know someone is really seeing us whilst we talk. 

 

2. Show curiosity

 

Curiosity is one of our core values at Befriend – and for good reason! Encouraging someone to share more about their life experiences can help them to feel seen and heard, which in turn, can have huge effects on how someone feels about an interaction. So instead of asking “have you been here before?”, try asking “what brings you here today?” and see where the conversation takes you!

3. Listen actively

 

Giving someone your full attention when they’re speaking is a really important part of building a connection. We often have great intentions when we’re listening, trying to identify the bits of information that you can relate or respond to with an enthusiastic “hey, me too!”, but in doing so, we can miss the little details that help connect us. Try to put away the internal chatter, and really listen. Once someone is done talking, you could try taking a moment to reflect back what you heard, or what you appreciate about their sharing.

4. Support someone

 

If you notice someone around you seems to be finding something challenging, you might try offering your support. This could be over something practical, like helping someone at the bus stop figure out what route to take, or it could be something more subtle, like inviting someone to take the seat next to you, because you can see they’re a bit nervous. Appreciating someone’s experience, and even relating to it on some level, can help create a sense of connection and foster empathy.

 

5. Be open-hearted

 

An open heart and a willingness to simply be present with someone without judgement helps to create a safe space for connection to flourish. Empathy opens the door to authenticity; a space we can be ourselves in the company of someone who accepts and celebrates us, for being exactly who we are.

Building new connections with strangers can feel really daunting, so it’s helpful to have different strategies in your back pocket that you can lean on during different times. Actively practicing empathy when we meet new people can be a great strategy to help us gently bring down those (all too human!) walls we tend to build around ourselves, and invite others in.

 

So, the next time you’re out and about or find yourself in an unfamiliar environment, challenge yourself to practice empathy towards a stranger. Dare to strike up a conversation, ask open-ended questions, really feel what it’s like to listen intently and without judgement, and show curiosity about their life and experiences… you never know where a simple act of empathy may lead you!

Give it a Go in Swan! A 9 week community adventure!

Give it a Go in Swan! A 9 week community adventure!

“Let’s try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zone and soar”

– Michelle Obama

WHAT’S “GIVE IT A GO” ALL ABOUT?

 

Give it a Go is a fun and free travelling community adventure taking place across different locations in the City of Swan! It gives you a chance to try new activities, discover a hidden hobby, sweeten your social life and meet other people in your local community… all in a low-pressure, easy and cosy environment! Drop in for one session, or come to them all – this is totally your adventure!

 

 

After a successful stay for two terms in Brabham, Give it a Go is now setting up camp in Caversham for 9 weeks! Then we’ll likely move to another suburb in Swan, and then another, all during the school terms throughout the year. So whilst the kids are at school, we hope you’ll swing by and try your hand at some of the activities we have planned: board games, crafts, learn a recipe, or just hang out for a coffee!

 

CONNECTING OVER AN ACTIVITY

 

Meeting new people can be a little tough. We worry about what to say, and if it’ll be awkward. Firstly, that’s super normal. We all feel butterflies sometimes! Secondly, we’ve learn that sharing an experience of some kind is a great way to facilitate conversation. Keeping your hands busy, bursting into laughter over your jenga tower tumbling down, or learning how to blend chai spices together, are moments that brings you closer with someone. They plant little seeds of connection.

 

Give it a Go is a great way to discover (or maybe even rediscover!) a passion, meeting new people! We’ll be running this adventure for 9 weeks, every Wednesday, with different low-key activities available to try throughout.

 

Plus, maybe you’ll get to see some of the same people each week and the little seed of connection could become a friendship, or another friendly face around in your community!

 

WHEN, WHERE, AND HOW MUCH?

 

  • Give it a Go Caversham will be setting up camp at the Caversham Cafe (located in the Primewest Caversham Village Shopping Centre)
  • Every Wednesday, 12:30pm to 2:30pm,
  • Running from the 31 January – 27 March 2024

 

It’s all free. Yup, 100% free. No sign ups, no tickets or paper work. Just rock up for one week (or rock up for all 10!) and try it out. It’s on us!

Possibility Fellowship header image

WHAT KINDS OF ACTIVITIES WILL BE ON OFFER?

 

Good question! We’re collaborating with local Swan community members to offer all kinds of fun activity stations. We don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you everything (you’ll have to come along if you’re really curious!), but we can share that over the course of the Give it a Go term we’ll have:

  • games and puzzles to get a tiny bit competitive over (remembering that, really, we’re all winners at Give it a Go!)
  • different crafty exercises to try your hand at
  • opportunities to learn a new skill
  • coffee and conversation

 

GOT SOMETHING YOU’D LIKE TO CONTRIBUTE?

 

We would love to collaborate with locals to share their gifts, hobbies and passions! If you have a special skill, whether you’re a painter, a poet, a pottery guru, a flower arranger, or anything in between, please reach out using the information below. We can’t wait to meet you!

 

MEET THE ORGANISERS!

 

Ally (left) and Carmel (right) are Befriend’s Community Builders in the City of Swan! They dreamt up the idea for ‘Give it a Go’ last year and launched it in Brabham. It was a hugely successful program, with so many people connecting and feeling more confident to try something new in their community. More on that in a moment!

If you have any questions or you want to chat through what you can expect in more detail, then please reach out to either Ally or Carmel on the details below:

Ally | call or text 0493 333 735

Carmel | text 0403 026 462

THE FOLKS FROM GIVE IT A GO BRABHAM LOVED IT SO MUCH THEY LAUNCHED ‘BRABHAM BUDDIES’!

 

We loved being in Brabham last term! We welcomed so many new and curious faces through the door, and watched as their confidence and connection to each other grew each week!

 

Fast forward a few months, Give it a Go is getting ready to set up in Caversham and we’re thrilled to see that the lovely locals from our Brabham tours are still meeting up! They’ve self-organised a weekly catch up to continue doing fun and creative things together… and of course, in true Befriend spirit, you’re invited to that as well! So if you’re looking to get out of the house and meet some nice people around Swan, you’d be welcome at Brabham Buddies.

Give it a Go is proudly supported by the City of Swan. 

Open Communities – Coming Together in Learning

Open Communities – Coming Together in Learning

Do you love making the world a better place?

Do you care about community building, local joy, and helping people thrive?

Do you find yourself coming up against challenges in progressing the things you care about sometimes?

 

… then we would love to design with you!

We’re on a mission to build a collective of do-ers and dreamers who are passionate about community building, and making the world a more connected, vibrant and inclusive place.
Are you a…
 
  • volunteer at a community association
  • staff member of a community organisation
  • local community builder
  • community activist
  • place-maker
  • community development officer
  • or just someone who wants to learn the ins-and-outs of community building?
community events image

THE INVITATION

 

We’re inviting you to join us in designing a collaborative space, that will help us all further our mission of connected, vibrant communities. We hope that this space, which could be digital, could be in person, or could be a magic combination of both, will enable everyone working in community to:

Image description: Workshop run by Befriend
  • Learn from others
  • Share your own experiences
  • Swap stories
  • Access insights about the inclusive community building practices other organisations use
  • Discover new ways of doing things
  • Meet new community collaborators
  • Overcome common community building challenges
  • Get creative with everyone working in this space!

There are so many similarities in what we’re working towards. What could it look like if we were able to learn from each other?

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

This is your opportunity to help design this space for the community building sector, so your unique needs, learning style, and collaboration methods are represented in the prototype.

 

We’re hosting:

 

A gathering at The Platform (3/256 Adelaide Terrace, Perth WA 6000*) on Saturday March 11 2023, between 10am – 12pm (nibbles, tea and coffee provided!)

and

An online gathering on Tuesday March 28 2023, between 10am – 12pm

 

Together, we’ll go on an Insight Gallery Walk, where we’ll share some of the work we’ve been doing with Black and Indigenous People of Colour with disabilities, learning more about inclusion in community life.

 

Then, we’ll Build Upon the Insights, generating new ideas on how we, as community do-ers, dreamers, volunteers and workers, can come together in learning to enhance our impact.

*Public Transport: The closest train station is Perth Station, which is approximately a 15-minute walk away.

Car Parking: Wilson Parking operates several car parks within walking distance of The Platform, including the 141 Adelaide Terrace Car Park and the 256 Adelaide Terrace Car Park.

SHARING OUR LEARNINGS WITH YOU

We’ve been working with Black & Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) with disabilities, just like Jess here, to learn more about what they need to feel included in community spaces.

In zooming into the unique needs of this unique group of people, we’ve been gifted some rich insights that may be able to be applied to many of the different communities we all work with.

We’re excited to share these insights with you, so you can apply them in your own community building work, and so we can build upon them in our shared learning space.

Please join us for a fun and engaging learning experience that will help the communities we all serve be stronger, more inclusive and more welcoming.

‘Open Communities’ is proudly supported by the Department of Social Services.

Neighbour Connection Cards

Neighbour Connection Cards

Human connection is the best gift of all.

 

We tend to think of the festive season as a busy time for dinners with family and social catch ups with friends, but for many different reasons, people in your neighbourhood might be spending Christmas Day alone.

 

Maybe they’re new to the area, or their children are overseas this year.

Maybe they’ve just come out of a long-term relationship or lost their life partner.

Maybe their plans have changed at the last minute.

Maybe they’re working a lot over the next few weeks.

Maybe this is just how it turned out this time.

 

We think that the festive season is a time for showing people that you care about them and for prioritising connection. If you’re feeling open-hearted and you love to help others feel a sense of belonging in your community, then consider reaching out to a few folks on your street!

 

We’ve made a cute little print that out that you might like to use (which you can download for free below) that lets your neighbours know your door is open. Or, if you fancy getting creative or inviting the kids in your life to make a card, you might like to write your own note!

 

Moments of connection come in all shapes and sizes, and we encourage you to think about what you might like to share this Christmas – a mince pie and a cuppa over the fence, brekkie on the veranda, or an extra seat around the dinner table. All of these moments and invitations matter more than you think!

 

Life is better together… especially at Christmas!

 

Downloadable flyer that you can print to send to your neighbours

 

If bringing your neighbours together and building a vibrant street community is something you’d like to be more intentional about in 2023, then we recommend checking out Neighbours Every Day for some great resources. Alternatively, reach out to us for a chat about how you might do this in a way that feels right for you!

Feeling awkward about meeting new people? It’s totally natural!

Feeling awkward about meeting new people? It’s totally natural!

Do you often find yourself saying “I’d like to go… but I don’t really know anyone and it might be awkward…” Yeah. Us too!

 

You’re not alone! This is a totally natural part of making new connections. And whilst it can feel really uncomfortable at times, we can learn to embrace the awkward!

 

The dread of feeling awkward is something so many of us share. In fact, it’s a fear that can actually hold us back from trying a new experience or getting through the door. As many as 1 in 4 Australians acknowledge that they regularly experience high levels of social anxiety when they’re meeting new people.

 

There isn’t really a clear definition or criteria for ‘feeling awkward’ but it’s a universal fear that we all experience in our lifetimes. Whether it’s through the process of making new friends, mingling at a party, attending a hobby group or club, networking, dating, meeting your in-laws for the first time… we all dread ‘getting something socially wrong’ and ‘not clicking’. It can become a serious phobia with devastating consequences, causing high levels of distress, racing thoughts, sweaty palms, muscle tension, panic and anxiety. Over a sustained period of time, that fear of being so uncomfortable in the moment can cause us to socially withdraw and stop trying new things altogether.

 

picture of people chatting. they look like they're pushing through the awkward!

 

But here’s the thing. We believe wholeheartedly that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of socialising. There’s no ‘succeeding’ and ‘failing’ at trying to make new friends. There’s just a bunch of strangers sharing some kind of experience and trying to spark a conversation, hoping that it flows and deep, deep down, hoping that we won’t feel rejected at the end of it. Fear of rejection is one of the biggest barriers to cultivating deep human connection.

 

We’ve been community building for over 12 years so trust us when we say that ’embracing the awkward’ is a natural, healthy and endearing part of trying something new in community. It shows our authenticity because building relationships isn’t a performance, and we’re not always going to have the perfect words to say. The trick is to not let it define you, to keep on practicing and keep showing up, and to remember that you, just like everyone else in the room, is worthy of being there.

 

Here are some tips to help you when you next hear yourself thinking “that sounds good, but I don’t know anyone there and it might be awkward…”

 

Self-talk

If you’ve spotted a gathering you’d love to go to but you start talking yourself out of it, try gently challenging that thought. Recognise that your mind is just trying to protect you from feeling rejected or embarrassed in the moment, but acknowledge that you’re also excited by this opportunity to do something fun and you’re curious about who you could meet there! Remind yourself that you are so worthy of friendship, that you can always go at your own pace and volume, and that you can excuse yourself to step outside any time you need to.

 

Message the organiser of the group

If there’s a key person organising the gathering you’re hoping to go to, try getting in touch with them and just explaining that you’re a bit worried about not knowing anyone. They will know how to welcome you in warmly and can help introduce you to others. One of the many lovely things community members do for each other across the Befriend Social Network is actually introduce people together who have shared interests, or who are confident chatters and curious questioners!

 

Ask someone you know to accompany you for the first few times

Being around a familiar face helps us feel safe and secure. Try asking a friend, family member or carer to accompany you for the first few times, just until you find your feet. They can help support the conversation whilst you gather your thoughts. Befriend Dungeons and Dragons Host, Harrison, remembered his first time hosting the group.

 

“My partner was just supposed to drop me off because I couldn’t drive at the time. Like, I didn’t beg… but I definitely just said please, please, please, please, please come in with me! Mostly, I just needed someone there that I knew. Once I got in, the fear didn’t go away, but it faded into the background a lot.”

 

embracing the awkward hosting dungeons and dragons

 

Prepare some easy conversation starters

You would not be the first person – or indeed the last – to have a list of conversational prompts stored in the notes of your phone. Having some reliable icebreakers under your hat can help get the conversation flowing a little so you can find common interests. You can use your environment to guide some curious questions (how long have you been doing [this activity]? Do you live locally?), or focus on light-hearted things such as book recommendations, favourite bands, movies and TV shows. You may not need this list, but having it available to you may enable you to relax more.

 

Acknowledge it!

It’s totally okay to admit out loud that you’re a bit nervous, and that you can’t think of anything to say. People respond well to vulnerability and humour, especially when it’s something we can all relate to in different ways. Chances are you’ll all have a chuckle over it and it may even break the ice a little.

 

Keep on turning up… it might get easier!

We’re not going to say that ‘practice makes perfect‘ because after all, what even is a ‘perfect’ conversation with someone? What we will say is that having the courage to keep turning up is how connection happens. Your presence matters; it makes a difference in the room, to you, and to others. Over time, you might be able to push past it and get to know someone, or, hey, you might just learn to become more comfortable with the occasional social faux pas (which is never as bad as you think it is!).

 

D&D Host Harrison offers this advice;

“If your goal is to meet new people that have a shared interest, you need to go to the places where that interest is expressed. And just, try, try to… try to just get into the building. If it helps, chances are, there is someone else in that building who’s thinking ‘I’m terrified, why am I here?’, and you might click and realise it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

 

You have the potential to make a big difference to others!

This is a story from a local community member who, like so many of us, struggled with meeting new people. They found the courage to come along to a few Befriend groups and over time, things started to get just a tiny bit easier. With that, came a new level of care and awareness that in turn, helps others.

 

“I am a naturally shy and introverted person. In social situations my default setting is to not talk. I find it hard to say hi…how are you? What’s your name? Or just to talk with people that I [don’t] know very well. While I was out and about on the street going to the shops or whatever, I would make a point not to really talk to the people who were serving me food or putting my groceries in a bag or whatever. After coming and being involved with Befriend, I started to feel more comfortable in social situations. I feel less nervous interacting with people, I am better able to interact with people in a way that makes them feel included and happy and welcome. Those skills and that awareness came about as a result of attending Befriend events. Just to be clear…I still find it difficult but I find it much easier now than I did before.”

 

We actually see this a lot – that attending something regularly and routinely not only helps someone strengthen their self confidence in different social situations, but actually helps them become better connectors for others! There’s a shared experience in feeling vulnerable that helps us recognise one another. If you’re looking for a safe space to be your authentic self (awkward warts ‘n’ all!), then you’re always welcome at any gathering in the Befriend Social Network. Groups are hosted and attended by local people all over Perth, and it’s an open invitation for you to embrace the awkward knowing you have a safe, friendly place to land. You can download our “conversation cards” to your mobile phone and lean on to them spark a chat!

 

That being said, if you find that your fear of experiencing awkward moments is really preventing you from meeting new people, then it may be worth chatting to your GP or sharing how you feel with someone who cares about you. Social anxiety can have a devastating impact on our individual and collective health and there are some great support avenues out there to help you take the steps you need at the pace that is right for you.