Gary Gilberg
4 min readApr 16, 2021


Good Life #13

To win with family, use EQ not just IQ.

9 steps to become more empathetic and effective.

Image by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”Buddy Hackett

Family relationships have a huge impact on the trajectory of your life. From the day you are born, they influence you in untold ways. Family influences your self-esteem, the food you eat, how you relate to people, the language you speak, your ambition, how often you shower, your relationship with money and your level of education. Even if you disown them, they will always be your family.

“You got a D in math this semester, son. We’re putting you up for adoption.” Simon Sinek

A nurturing family setting in childhood results in better marriages 60 years later because children internalize beliefs about relationships from their parents. You literally learn from your parents how to be a parent and a spouse. What if you didn’t have great role models? Develop your empathy to build warmer, more stable relationships. Empathy allows you to change your perspective, to see a situation from the other person’s point of view. You understand what they feel, even when you don’t agree with it. Learning this skill softens your resistance to finding a mutually beneficial solution when conflicts arise. Empathy helps you learn heathier strategies to deal with negative emotions.

The most important thing a mother and father can do for their children is to love each other. Theodore Hesburgh

All families experience conflict. It’s how you handle them that’s critical. Learning how to have a “good fight” is a skill that determines if you will remain a family in name only. The key is understanding what your partner or child is feeling, not just what they are saying, screaming or not saying. Neuroscientists have discovered “mirror” neurons in our brain that fire when we see someone else in pain. Here’s how Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the UCLA describes them, “If you see me choke up in emotional distress …. mirror neurons in your brain simulate my distress. You know how I feel because you literally feel what I am feeling.” This means the human capacity for empathy is wired into our brains. Since our brains have the ability to grow new connections due to neuroplasticity, we all have the capacity to increase our empathy.

Here are 9 steps to develop your empathy:

1) Put yourself in their head. What is their point of view? What past experiences gave them that perspective? There are many factors that go into our cognitive thought processes. If you are willing to step out of your head and into theirs, the bridge is called empathy.

2) Withhold judgement. Seek to understand, not to judge. If you judge them, your empathy may turn to anger or sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, even pity for them, which puts you above them. Empathy does not place you on a higher status than them. Anger will destroy your ability to communicate effectively.

3) Recognize that your family members have to develop at their own pace, not at the pace you want them to grow. Albert Einstein didn’t start speaking till the age of 3 and would often repeat words and sentences to himself softly till he was 7.

4) Everyone has to make their own mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow. I bet you made a few mistakes growing up, despite advice to the contrary. (I was the rare exception.)

“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake. You can’t learn anything from being perfect.” Adam Osborne

5) Only offer advice when asked. Ask questions first. When you give advice, you are telling them they aren’t smart enough. You’re better than them. They aren’t good enough. Solutions that you offer will be less persuasive than their own ideas. Your family will have a vested interest in their own solutions and be more motivated to follow through.

6) It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that determines how it will be received. Smile, lower your voice, open your arms (as opposed to crossed at your chest) and maintain eye contact when you speak. Nod and give a word of acknowledgement as you listen.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

7) If you feel your empathy getting hijacked by negative emotions, stop, take a deep breath and count to 10 before you say anything. Give yourself a chance to respond, not react. If that doesn’t work disengage. You can walk away, say you will think about it, ask for a break or ask for help by saying, “let’s talk to Dad about that.” The key here is to de-escalate and not let the conversation go ballistic.

“The advantage of having only one child is that you always know who did it.” Erma Bombeck

8) When the inevitable blowup occurs, offer forgiveness to both yourself and your family. Nobody’s perfect and families can push one another’s buttons without even thinking. Sometimes I think it’s my wife’s superpower, but as I build my empathy, the disagreements are less frequent and intense.

“Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper.” Friedrich Nietzsche

9) Make sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep. Sleep restores key neurochemicals that improve emotional regulation. Your mom’s advice, “go to bed, you’ll feel better in the morning,” was indeed very wise.

“When you are telling your children it’s time to go to bed, it really helps to have science on your side.” Helen Pearson

Gary Gilberg is a certified life and retirement coach. To learn the 4 most common retirement mistakes click on the this link.



Gary Gilberg

Gary Gilberg is a certified coach, writer and ski bum, not necessarily in that order. Sign up for his free newsletters at