Showing empathy in the workplace is critical to the success of professionals and the organisations they work for. Knowledge, hard skills, and job competence can only get you so far, but practicing empathy in the workplace — how you interact with as well as react and adapt to different people and changing situations — is a key differentiator that can make or break you and your team.
Defining Empathy: What It Is and Why It’s Scarce
Empathy is the ability to recognize and understand people’s perspectives and circumstances. But it’s more than just caring about other people and making space for their mistakes. And this is where the challenge lies. Here are a few things to note about what nurtures or hinders capacity for empathy.
- Empathy is often influenced by upbringing.
Getting in touch with another’s feelings involves touching base with your own. Doing so can be difficult for those who grew up in families where feelings weren’t discussed or processed. In some cases, they may have been shamed or punished for expressing emotions when they were younger. When people keep their feelings inside, they lose the capacity to connect with their emotions and, consequently, those of others during adulthood.
- Empathy may instigate worries about productivity
Empathy encourages exhibiting flexibility in accommodating employee needs—something that seemingly goes contrary to fairness and equality. There’s a fear that empathy will lead to “inconsistency” and possibly performance and financial burdens. No wonder seven out of ten CEOs and HR professionals struggle with consistently showing empathy at work, according to Businessolver’s recent State of Workplace Empathy study. Moreover, 68% of CEOS said they’re afraid that empathy will reduce their staff’s respect for them.
Responding with Empathy
- Empathy requires action
Sympathy only expresses pity or concern for another’s predicament. It doesn’t involve action. Meanwhile, empathy requires finding a solution to help, which can mean investing an amount of time and effort to support the other.
Why is Empathy important in the Workplace?Demonstrating empathy in the workplace can be hard. However, this trait can make a powerful and positive impact on organizations when you learn to apply it. New research from the non-profit Catalyst discusses the importance and benefits of applying empathy at work.
- It boosts engagement.
Empathy encourages communication and collaboration, which are essential in improving your employees’ social skills and in building trust across the team. Those with highly empathic senior leaders often or always feel engaged (76%).
- It drives productivity.
Employees are likely to become innovative (61%) when they’re led by highly empathic managers. Empathy in teamwork causes members to be more in sync as they build up each other’s strengths and cover for one another’s weaknesses. This knowledge helps them overcome challenges faster and even come up with creative solutions.
- It improves retention.
People who feel that their companies empathise with their life circumstances are more likely to stay longer (57% of white women and 62% of women of colour) and speak well of them.
Framework for Adult Leadership Development
Leaders should expand their mindset and learn new approaches so they can adapt, innovate, and overcome challenges amid these complex times. Awarego provides research-backed Adult Leadership Development programs geared toward vertical growth, which empowers thinking and acting beyond your limits through a shift in perspectives and behaviors.
Showing Empathy in the Workplace
Everyone can develop empathy, whatever level in the organisation you may be in. These six steps can help leaders and teams.
Demonstrating empathy in the workplace can become natural for leaders through patience and intentionality. Here are four ways to get you started:
1. Be self-aware.
Examine your own self-talk and practice self-empathy. You can only be empathetic toward others if you’re compassionate with yourself.
2. Create opportunities for conversation.
Take time to discover the interests and goals of the people in your team. You can do this by checking in with your team regularly, having an open-door policy, and involving them in decision-making (for instance, getting their feedback during times of major company changes).
3. Practice active listening.
Suspend your opinions, don’t finish their sentences, or give advice. Just listen and pay attention. Ask what your team members enjoy or take pride in and how they see themselves in your company in the next years. Their input can help you discover what motivates them to do their best. Active listening can also help you detect signs of burnout.
4. Be vulnerable.Share your interests, experiences, obstacles, ideas, or feelings during particular situations. Opening up can help others do the same and built trust. Being vulnerable also means moving from cognitive and emotional empathy (understanding another’s perspective on the rational and emotional level) to compassionate empathy (taking action to address the situation).
When you work on becoming a more empathic leader, it will be easier to motivate your teammates to grow in this area by doing the following:
5. Consider different perspectives.
Wondering how to teach empathy in the workplace? Tell them to express their individual perspectives when you encounter a conflict or disagreement.
Clarification questions can expose concerns, disappointments, or confusion that can help you and the whole team arrive at a solution.
Also, watch out for confirmation bias – focusing on the part of your co-worker or team’s problem that supports your own prior belief or stand on the matter. There may be times that someone’s or the others’ preferred approach – although different from your idea – might be the best way to address an issue.
6. Validate feelings.
You don’t have to agree with their position. What’s important is that you listen to them carefully, acknowledge their sentiments, and say that you’re ready to be a part of the solution.
Do you want to read more about Empathy? Read our step-by-step guide to showing empathy.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Arthur Lankester is a passionate trainer and coach helping individuals and organisations in developing ‘transformational capabilities’. Simply said, Arthur help’s people to develop skills to go through complex personal or organizational changes’. Arthur is graduated (Msc.) Psychologist and Master of Business Administration.
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