When Is It Appropriate to Be Empathic in Your Office?

May 19, 2023


A group of colleagues sitting and talking in a circle. One woman has her hand on her coworker's shoulder, being empathetic at work.

To be an effective manager, you need to manage more than just the day-to-day activities of your workplace. A truly effective and respected manager also balances and manages relationships, emotions, and different personalities. One of the best ways to show your team members you truly care about their well-being is to demonstrate empathy in action.

Let’s take a look at what empathy is, how to practice it, and when it’s appropriate to be empathic in your office environment. 

Sympathy vs Empathy: Spot the Difference

What Is Empathy? 

First, we must define empathy. Empathy is the ability and willingness to share the feelings of others. In addition, empathy spans various emotional states. It can include recognizing when someone is happy and proud and sharing this feeling with them. It also includes acknowledging when someone is sad or upset and understanding why they are feeling that way. 

As a manager or team member, if you show empathy toward your colleagues, it shows them that you value them. This builds stronger workplace relationships, establishes trust, and improves workplace morale. 

Comparing Sympathy vs Empathy

Sympathy and empathy may appear similar, but they are actually quite different. Empathy is based on understanding, while sympathy is most often based on pity. 

If you’ve ever struggled in life or experienced a tough time, it is likely that the last thing you wanted was pity. However, a listening ear, an eagerness to understand your situation, and a compassionate heart were probably what you needed the most. 

This is the biggest difference between sympathy and empathy. Don’t pity someone else’s situation. Instead, understand why they are feeling the way they are and acknowledge that it’s an appropriate emotion for the situation. Further, do your best to engage and share in this feeling where appropriate. 

A Lack of Empathy

A lack of empathy can be detrimental in both the professional and personal world. People who lack empathy have a harder time making and maintaining lasting social connections. Additionally, a person who lacks empathy often comes across as disinterested, entitled, and dismissive. 

When working with others, and especially in a position where you manage others, a lack of empathy can make or break your career. A good manager establishes relationships that are inclusive, understanding, and comfortable. The workplace should be a space where it’s okay for others to have their experiences and feelings. 

Of course, it’s essential to know the right time to express your feelings in the workplace. It’s imperative to deal with your feelings on your own before taking them to a colleague or manager. Master the art of expressing your feelings in a professional yet open manner. 

Do You Struggle with Empathy?

If you feel that you struggle with empathy, or have a lack of empathy, try to keep the following in mind.

  • Work is only one portion of someone’s life. Outside of work, everyone has other concerns, responsibilities, and lived experiences. Your coworkers have friendships, finances, children, romantic quarrels, health concerns, and more.
  • Not everyone can be 100% every day and that's okay. As a team, recognize when and where others need help. Then you can chip in to pick up the slack. This is what makes an effective team, a healthy work environment, and a respected managerial staff. 

Being Empathetic Includes the Following 

Being empathetic includes listening, understanding, and putting yourself in another’s shoes to feel where they are coming from and why.

Here are some helpful tips on how to practice being empathic in your workplace. 

  • Cognitive Empathy: This is the practice of mentally understanding what someone else is thinking and feeling, and understanding their perspective. 

  • Emotional Empathy: This is the practice of feeling with someone else. It is allowing yourself to really FEEL with another person, even if those feelings are uncomfortable. 

  • Empathic Action: Empathic action includes taking action where you know it's needed and asking how you can help. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sitting in a space with someone and doing nothing with them as they feel their feelings. 

If you take time to practice each of the above with your colleagues and teammates, your social skills and respect in the workplace will skyrocket. 

ASAP Is Here to Help 

Here at ASAP, we specialize in preparing and training administrative professionals for every aspect of their careers. This includes everything from administrative work functions to social skills. Check out our webinars and in-person events to continue building your skill set and enhancing your career. 

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