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Developing Empathy in the Workplace

SoulAlyssa Davis
Photo by Jessica da Rosa on Unsplash

Photo by Jessica da Rosa on Unsplash

"When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems.” – Stephen Covey

Does empathy belong in the workplace?

The simple answer – yes. Studies found that companies with empathy and emotional intelligence ingrained in their core values outperform their “robotic rivals” by 20%. It’s why artificial intelligence won’t take over every job we have. Great companies and great business are built on great relationships and trust. Companies that see the person behind the systems and processes produce better results. A leader’s first, and arguably most important, job is to be human. Oftentimes leaders find themselves wrapped up in results-oriented behavior, not considering the people that they interact with on a day-to-day basis, and they develop a pigeonholed mindset that solely revolves around the priorities of the business. In doing so they often forget the importance of taking care of those around them so that they can perform their jobs better. At the end of the day, that should be the goal – to have employees that are passionate about what the company does and want to produce quality work. For this to come to fruition, leaders have to give them the space for error, the understanding of what their job entails, and the compassion to help them resolve their issue.

Research shows that 96% of employees consider empathy an important trait for employers to display, while 92% believe empathy is undervalued in their company culture. So why is this?

Empathy takes time and effort to develop. If you have a new hire, you’re not going to immediately understand all of their pain points and what makes them tick. When working with multiple personalities, it can be difficult to empathize with each individual, and it’s not second nature to understand why people think or feel the way they do. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to be a mindreader. Workplace relationships shouldn’t be a guessing game. You can ask. It can be as simple as, “Hey, I noticed you’re running behind on your deadline; is everything okay?” And then taking it a step further with, “How can we solve this?” It’s not placing blame or reprimanding. It’s simply taking a moment to notice, asking, validating their reasoning, and then finding a solution together.

If you can care enough about your team or your coworkers to show them this kind of empathy, you give them the psychological safety to take risks and develop their own creative ways to problem-solve. Here are some actionable ways to develop empathy in your workplace:

Listen. Pick up on cues like body language and tone. Verbal and non-verbal communication are equally important in sussing out a team member’s feelings. If you work remotely, try using video conference calls when discussing important matter to gauge reactions. A phone call can also provide you with more insight than a Slack message or email.

Consider your perspective. When engaging with coworkers, think about how you would feel if put in a similar situation. Note that though this might not be how your coworker is feeling, it can indicate what an appropriate response would be to the situation at hand.

Get curious. If you’re not sure about why someone is reacting the way they are or behaving in a certain manner, ask them. Interact with those outside of your inner circle. Listen to stories from those around you from different walks of life. Ask questions that matter. It not only helps you understand the person’s perspective, but it also shows a conscious effort being made and sets the tone for how issues are dealt with in the office.

Help others. Volunteer your time, resources, and energy to charitable organizations or your community. Studies show that doing so increases our levels of empathy. Try Catchafire or taproot, and make a difference by volunteering your professional skills pro bono.