Research shows that not only do many people leave jobs for more empathetic, compassionate workplaces but that companies that value empathy outperforms their competition. Since lockdown, with so many changes and so much stress, empathy at work is more important than ever.
The dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” By putting ourselves in another person’s shoes we can recognize their emotions and understand why they may be feeling angry, sad, hurt, or fearful—and find ways to help.
Empathy enhances work relationships and productivity. In an empathetic workplace, we feel listened to, supported, and seen for who we truly are. As a result, we communicate more effectively, solve problems more collaboratively, and achieve more positive outcomes.
Happily, empathy can be learned. Here are several ways to develop empathy at work.
Show empathy by actively listening. Many of us don’t feel appreciated at work. When we listen attentively and respond to others with true caring—whether at a Zoom meeting, via email, or on the phone—our coworkers will feel heard and respected.
Show empathy by asking questions. You’ve listened to a colleague who is angry or upset, but you’re still unclear about the underlying problem. Ask questions until you better understand. This shows your concern and helps you figure out possible ways to help.
Show empathy by connecting with co-workers. We’re most satisfied at work when we bond with colleagues. (We’re most dissatisfied with work—and are likely to leave—when we don’t!) Get to know coworkers as people. Chat about their lives, family, and interests—and your own. Build connections and friendships.
Show empathy by practicing compassion. When others share work or personal problems, listen to them and acknowledge their feelings—no matter how difficult those feelings may be. When possible, offer guidance to help resolve the issue.
Show empathy by not judging. Assume the best of everyone. Refrain from criticizing or arguing with coworkers. Perhaps someone who is angry or sullen needs help and is afraid to ask for it. Listen closely to their words and tone—and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Show empathy by giving others credit. Publicly congratulate colleagues on a success. They’ll feel pleased and will likely return the favor.
Becoming more empathetic takes time. The better you’re able to understand things from another’s point of view, the better you’ll be at helping to create a workplace that’s truly compassionate.