Empathy can also help you understand and address your coworkers’ challenges, such as an increased workload or a personal matter. You can practice empathy by offering to help in any way you can. This gesture can show your team members that you are dedicated to ensuring the team’s success and will assist them to reach team goals.
Examples Of Empathy In The Workplace
It’s no surprise that great leaders and thriving organizations care about empathetic communication among their teams. But research shows that empathetic communication skills are in short supply. In this article, we outline six ways leaders and workplaces can practice empathetic communication in the workplace.
Empathy includes understanding another person’s feelings and perspective. It can be a powerful tool for leaders and managers. Using empathy helps us to navigate our relationships and the world around us. It is a critical piece of emotional intelligence.
Empathy can also give you a career boost. A study by DDI, a management consulting company, found it was a critical driver of overall performance. Researchers have also found that those with empathy are rated as higher performers by their bosses. Unfortunately, the DDI study found that only 40 percent of leaders have strong empathic abilities.
What Is Empathy?
In its simplest form, empathy is the ability to recognize emotions in others, and to understand other people’s perspectives on a situation. At its most developed, empathy enables you to use that insight to improve someone else’s mood and to support them through challenging situations.
Empathy is often confused with sympathy, but they are not the same thing. Sympathy is a feeling of concern for someone, and a sense that they could be happier. Unlike empathy, sympathy doesn’t involve shared perspective or emotions.
You can feel sympathy for someone you see in tears in the street, for example, without knowing anything about their situation. Sympathy may develop into empathy, but doesn’t necessarily do so.
According to influential psychologist Daniel Goleman, empathy is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence – a vital leadership skill. It develops through three stages: cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy. We discuss each stage in turn, below.
Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what another person might be thinking or feeling. It need not involve any emotional engagement by the observer.
Managers may find cognitive empathy useful in understanding how their team members are feeling, and therefore what style of leadership would get the best from them today. Similarly, sales executives can use it to gauge the mood of a customer, helping them to choose the most effective tone for a conversation.
Cognitive empathy is a mostly rational, intellectual, and emotionally neutral ability. This means that some people use it for negative purposes. For example, those with a Machiavellian personality trait may use cognitive empathy to manipulate people who are emotionally vulnerable.
Emotional empathy is the ability to share the feelings of another person, and so to understand that person on a deeper level. It’s sometimes called "affective empathy" because it affects or changes you. It’s not just a matter of knowing how someone feels, but of creating genuine rapport with them.
3 tips to develop your empathy in the workplace
As a manager, developing these skills should be top of mind if you want to create a team built on trust, connection, and open communication. Here are some tips to help you flex that empathy muscle!
1. See things from your employee’s perspective by getting involved in their day
While this may seem obvious, putting yourself in your team’s shoes will help you remember what their day-to-day struggles look and feel like. One of the quickest ways to build empathy for your team and understand what they need is to go through what they are going through.
We spoke with Mario the manager who explained to us that his team was working slower than anticipated and not on schedule to submit a project. Before getting upset with them, he knew he needed to understand where they were coming from.
🎙 “I would show up on-site as early as they did so that I could spend the day working with them. This helped me better understand their roadblocks so that I could help them find a solution. I knew that I would not be able to move the project along any quicker without really understanding what my team was going through.” – Mario
💡 Tip: Before drawing conclusions about someone’s behavior or outcomes, ask yourself if you’ve done enough to empathize, and consider alternative explanations. This is all part of taking on their perspective!
2. Sharpen your active listening skills
Sam the manager explains that when he notices someone on his team acting out of the norm, he will often ask them questions to better understand what they are going through beyond work.
🎙 “Once they start talking, I will simply listen. This helps them feel comfortable opening up and I often respond by letting them know that I am here to support them. I encourage them to take the time and space they need to express themselves and don’t judge or question their feelings.” – Sam
Why is empathy important in the workplace?
Each person has their own values, cultural understandings, backgrounds and perspectives that make them unique. You can use your ability to empathize and understand others when working on these types of teams. Here are other benefits to being empathetic at work:
1. Improves communication
When you practice empathy, you are better able to adapt your communication style to the person or group you are interacting with. You can adjust your tone of voice or body language to best fit the conversation, such as if you are giving a presentation or speaking with a supervisor.
2. Strengthens working relationships
3. Boosts creative thinking
When you use empathy in the workplace, you may also develop more creative solutions. As a team, your company may ask you to consider your audience’s perspective or the most important needs of your target customers. Using empathy can help you and your team members put yourselves in the customer’s place and think of strategies that would most appeal to you in that situation.
Understanding a product or service from the recipient’s point of view can help you identify challenges or opportunities you hadn’t thought of before and be more willing to experiment with new solutions.
4. Increases sales and investment opportunities
Empathy in the workplace can help you better understand the motivation of your current and future stakeholders, such as clients, customers and investors.
Investors may have differing motivations for choosing companies, so you can practice empathy by researching your potential investors. Discover their professional background to identify any similarities you may share. During your conversation, appeal to their knowledge and experience that likely impacts their decisions.
You can apply the same research tactics and discussion methods when securing contracts with new clients or updating old contracts with current clients. Research to discover what is important to them so you can appeal to their needs in your pitch. Identify potential challenges their company may face that your company can provide solutions to.
The benefits of empathy:
Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they might be experiencing. This helps you connect with those around you and can lead to a healthier work environment where people don’t feel alone or isolated.
A lack of empathy can cause problems as well. According to studies, workplaces that have a “cutthroat” attitude and create a culture that doesn’t value teamwork or compassion for one another suffer from higher turnover rates.
Instead of focusing on the bigger picture, employees become more concerned with their own personal progress which can lead to infighting and backstabbing within the company.