The Value of Empathy in the Workplace

March 31, 2020


You’ve likely heard the phrase, “To walk in someone else’s shoes,” but do you truly understand the meaning behind it? In other words, can you view their life from their circumstance and  understand what it feels like to be that person?

Enter empathy. The definition of empathy is the ability to identify and understand the wants, needs and viewpoints of those around you without experiencing them for yourself at that moment. Empathy is also about acting and behaving with compassion. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious.

“Be not disturbed at being misunderstood;
be disturbed rather at not being understanding.” 

~ Chinese Proverb

Showing empathy in the workplace matters – a lot. According to a 2019 Workplace Empathy Study, 90 percent of all employees believe empathy is important in the workplace, and eight in ten are willing to leave an employer who isn’t empathetic.

Empathy goes a long way in business. It builds leadership, strengthens relationships, fosters work productivity and overall job satisfaction. There is no one way to show empathy; it takes on many forms. For example, if your co-worker is dealing with a difficult health issue, you can display empathy by taking quality time to talk to him/her and ask how he/she is doing. You may even volunteer to answer their phone or take on some of their work while he/she is away at a doctor’s appointment.

Another way of showing empathy is by respecting a co-worker’s comment even when you disagree with them. Saying something like, “I can see why you may feel that way, but this is the reason I feel differently.” This approach shows you’re listening, taking their feelings and reasoning into account.

When you develop empathy, you become skilled at managing relationships, listening and relating to others. People with strong empathy avoid judging too quickly and stereotyping. They live their lives in an open, honest way.

To “walk in someone’s shoes,” follow these examples.

Listen, Really Listen
Part of being empathic is listening – really listening. Face-to-face discussions are ideal because you can observe one’s body language while listening, which can help communicate how the person is feeling. Take time to have casual conversations with your co-workers. Share your work experiences and life outside the office. It’s a great way to build empathy and get to know a person.

Master the Art of Asking Questions
Asking questions is an ideal way to get to the root of how your co-worker is feeling and allows you to better understand the situation. You can say, “I noticed you looked upset after our meeting, can you tell me what’s bothering you so I can understand your concerns?” This communicates you care about their feelings and point of view.

Avoid Stereotyping
Don’t pass judgements or make assumptions about an employee. For example, don’t think a co-worker is negligent or unmotivated because he/she leaves the office an hour before everyone else. It’s likely he/she made an agreement with their boss to compensate for leaving early like coming to the office an hour earlier, working from home or committing to make up the time in another way. Assuming the worst of people is a sure way to widen your gap of empathy – and workplace happiness.

Remember People Have Feelings
Stress often occurs in workplaces because of the amount of workload people face each day. Be mindful of your comments and how you speak to fellow employees. Of course, this is true in how we communicate by email, too. For example, avoid saying face to face or by email, “Your report is two days late. Please send now.” Rather, say, “I recognize you’re juggling a lot of work priorities, but I’d greatly appreciate it if you can send me your expense report at your earliest convenience.” By communicating empathically, you’re expressing respect and kindness, and you’ll likely receive the information you need much faster.

Practice, Practice, Practice
One of the most important leadership skills one can possess is empathy. And like most leadership skills, empathy doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice. When you focus on seeing things from another’s perspective and responding compassionately their concerns, you’ll develop a higher level of empathy, respect and influence. You’ll help create an empathetic workplace culture where connection, trust and compassion abound!

Your technical skills alone don’t guarantee success. Developing your soft skills is the most valuable investment you can make. There is no other investment that creates a greater return. Contact Polished today to get started.

Nancy SchnoebelenAbout the Author: Nancy Schnoebelen Imbs is an empowering professional development consultant, dynamic motivational speaker and author. Highly dedicated and results-oriented, she has the skill and passion for helping individuals become more confident and successful in business and beyond. She and her company Polished help clients focus on key adjustments that result in meaningful impact and effectiveness.

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