ACTIVITY: Building Empathy – Starting with Me

Purpose: This activity helps start the conversation around empathy and understanding why people feel and act in certain ways.

Materials needed: Large pieces of paper, sticky notes, markers


  1. Break the group up into smaller groups of 3s or 4s.
  2. Hand each group a large piece of paper, sticky notes and markers.
  3. Ask the groups to divide the large piece of paper into four quadrants.
  4. Ask them to name each of the quadrants: think, feel, say, do.
  5. In the think section, ask them to write: When I think I should have known better…
  6. Now ask them to use their sticky notes to write down their feelings, words, and actions that would be common for them when they think they should have known better. For example, When I think I should have known better; I feel upset with myself; I say I shouldn’t have trusted you; I do or act controlling.
  7. Each of these would be on a separate sticky note and group members would then put these sticky notes in the appropriate quadrant on the large sheet of paper.
  8. Now ask them to read each other’s within their smaller groups and look for commonalities and differences. Encourage them to ask each other questions about their reactions.
  9. What reactions made sense to them? Could they see how people could feel differently even when they had the same thought?  Could they see how these feelings could lead to different actions?

Talking Points:

Debrief this activity by asking for any understanding that developed as they listened to their group members.

Explain that the ability to understand someone else’s thoughts and feelings, even when they are different from our own, is the ability to have empathy.

2 thoughts on “ACTIVITY: Building Empathy – Starting with Me

  1. I used this activity in my DBT group which was focused on Interpersonal Effectiveness. The responses were all pretty similar, so I asked the small groups to ‘counsel’ the other group members about their responses to ‘when I think I should have know better I..’ What came up was the ability the group had to offer support and encouragement to each other. I asked the participants if they could, in turn, begin to offer that kind of support and encouragement to themselves. We had a great debrief / discussion about how kindness and compassion is sometimes easier to have for others than ourselves and how the group members could begin to practice that kindness and compassion toward themselves when they feel they ‘should’ have done something differently.
    I love having this blog for great ideas for activities for groups with a curriculum that does not offer much in the way of group activities/experiential exercises. I find my group is more engaged when they get to participate in activities. They also get a chance to practice the skills they are learning in the curriculum.


    • Hi Erin,
      Thank you so much for your comments and I am so happy that you find this blog helpful. I love the additions you made to this activity, great job! Let me know what questions you have or areas that you would like additional activities.
      Thank you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s