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Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace: 7 Insights for Difficult Times

Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace
Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace

Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy isn’t something that’s “nice to have.” It’s a “must-have.”

Simply put, empathy is the ability to understand and share another person's feelings. It's “walking a mile in someone else's shoes” and seeing the world from their perspective. Empathy is often confused with sympathy, but there's a key difference. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone.

Empathy is feeling with someone. It's a deeper, more genuine connection and understanding. It involves taking the time to appreciate someone’s vulnerability and being vulnerable with them in return.​

What is Empathy a "Must-Have"? 

So, why is it a “must-have?”

Empathy builds trust and loyalty. When team members know you understand and care about them, they'll have a strong relationship with you. This leads to higher levels of employee engagement. Empathy also fosters creativity and innovation. When someone has the ability to see a problem from different perspectives, they're more likely to come up with unique solutions. In addition, empathy boosts productivity and reduces stress. When you can communicate effectively and understand each other's needs, you're less likely to experience conflicts and misunderstandings.

Are you sold on empathy yet?

Last but not least, it can boost your team members and help them overcome difficult times. Empathy is a skill you can continually develop.

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7 things You Can Do To Cultivate Empathy In The Workplace

1. Practice Impactful Listening

When someone is speaking to you, listen actively and attentively. Make eye contact, ask questions, and focus on what they’re saying. Try to understand their perspective and feelings. Be fully present by putting away your phone, turning off your email notifications, and giving them your full attention. Your team members need to know you value their time and respect their feelings.

2. Observe Body Language

80% of our communication is nonverbal. Pay attention to your body language as you communicate with others. They’ll pick up on how you may be feeling, even if you aren’t speaking. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures can also give you insights into how someone else is feeling. If their arms or crossed or they’re fiddling with their fingers, it may be a sign that they aren’t comfortable. Use those cues as an opportunity to reset the conversation.

3. Take on Multiple Perspectives

Put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to see things from their perspective. Ask yourself how you would feel in their situation and how you may want to be treated. When someone shares their feelings, it’s also important to resist the urge to judge or criticize. Everyone experiences things differently. Respect everyone’s emotions without trying to change them.

4. Show Genuine Interest

Show others you value what they have to say. Ask them about their lives, their interests, and their concerns. Use open-ended questions throughout your conversation to dig deeper and further encourage others to open up to you.

ENGAGE: Valued Voice

5. Be Vulnerable

When you open up about your own struggles, you create a safe space for others to do the same. Avoid making assumptions or judgments about others based on previous interactions. Instead, try to understand their unique experiences and challenges. We’re all human, after all.

6. Use Self-Reflection

Take time to reflect on your own feelings and experiences, and how they may relate to others. Consider how your personal biases or prejudices may affect your ability to empathize. In addition, reflect upon the opportunities you’ve already had to empathize. Did you successfully show others that their feelings and opinions matter? What are one or two things you could improve upon? Set these as goals for your next interactions with your team members.

7. Take Action

Finally, don't just empathize - take action. If someone is struggling with a task, offer to help. If someone is going through a tough time, check in with them regularly. If your gut is telling you someone seems a little “off” today, ask them how they’re doing and what you can do to support them. Actions speak louder than words.

Cultivating empathy is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, effort, and commitment – but it’s well worth the investment. An empathetic environment leads to a strong culture where employees feel invested and engaged in their roles.

Now Available! ENGAGE 2023: The Company Culture Report

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About Author

Kate Rehling
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