Pay attention to others and put yourself in their shoes. It is the most important communication skill a person can have at work or home. By putting yourself in others’ faces you will get a sense of how they are feeling. When you show empathy for another person you treat them as you can relate to as an equal in distress.
Empathy is not like sympathy as the latter says I understand but empathy says I feel your pain and that’s what most people want. Empathetic phrases that you might use in the workplace are like “I know this can be frustrating” or, “I would like to help you if I can, let’s see if we can solve this together” etc.
Importance of empathy in the workplace
Empathy in the workplace is important because the emotions that we perceive can have a wide variety of meanings. For example one of your team members settle, and it has come into work angry. It might mean that he does not like the job or you or could mean that he just got a speeding ticket or didn’t have any breakfast. Even if you don’t agree with his emotional response, it is valid from their perspective. Their worldview forms their response and you have a different set of experiences and influences and yours might not necessarily be the only response. This is important to understand when developing empathy so how can you be a more empathetic person in the workplace you can identify if the situation is trigger fear, ask more questions, use active listening, and put aside your viewpoint.
We all live in our version of reality. A reality that is limited by our senses, our temperament, and our own experiences. It is the only reality we will ever truly know but it is crucial to our personal development, our relationships, and society itself that we make the effort to try and experience other people’s realities as well. This is done through empathy or you can say that empathy is an active attempt to understand their reality.
It is also important to recognize and accept your emotional state, you can take a step back and cool off with a clearer mind. You will have a better chance of seeing their point of view. Most importantly it will allow you to ask questions in a calm non-confrontational way. Asking questions and listening are the two simplest ways to focus on increasing your empathy.
A study shows that 72% of CEO thinks that empathy is critical in developing a positive workplace culture in the next few years which is why empathy is important in the workplace.
Scientific point of view
We are social animals and our ability to communicate and understand each other’s emotional states is the key to maintaining our relationships. So it is a little wonder that the ability to empathize is hardwired directly into our brains. One area that assists in this process is the right super marginal gyrus which helps us to distinguish our emotional state from that of another person and plays a key role in our ability to observe and assess what other people are experiencing. Studies from neuron science journals suggest that we have a system of mirror neurons in our brains that cause us to mimic the actions of others. That is why when we observe someone experiencing joy or cone we experience the same sensation to a certain extent but these reactions are primarily driven by subconscious reflexes.
Types of empathy
There are two different forms of empathy that are important in the workplace
- Cognitive empathy
It is the ability to understand cognitively what a person might be going through. For example, a doctor sits down and talks with you and asks perhaps about the pain that you are having. And from that interaction, the doctor says that they understand that it might be hurting you and they can understand what might be happening. That is the perfect example of cognitive empathy that is they are showing you that they understand and they feel with you. Although they may not be feeling the pain itself
- Emotional empathy
This takes empathy up another notch. In that, you are now beginning to feel some of the feelings that another person is happening. For example, if a person comes to sit with you and talks about some of the struggles that they are having with work-life balance, and some of the issues that they are having with some of their younger children. You may be able to think back to the time when you were having the same problems with your children and you begin to feel a tinge of sadness and anxiety for that person. It is what we call emotional empathy.
Why empathy is important in the Workplace
- Helps in Communication
The first area which shows why empathy is important in the workplace is in the area of communication because empathy helps you in the whole communication process. If someone is communicating with us the more empathetic we are, the more you are beginning to understand how they are feeling in the moment and the more you are ready to signal to them that you are present with them. That you are listening to them or you understand the emotions that are happening to them.
It is said that starvation in the workplace is the lack of someone to truly listen to you. This is a fact that because of all the workload you are often distracted and that is understandable. But through empathy, you can connect to another person, engage with them, and show them through your very presence that you are listening and interested in what they are saying and in the outcome of that conversation.
- Disengagement and belonging
The second area of why empathy is so important in the workplace is two huge problems that keep being revealed year after year in surveys are disengagement and belonging. Study shows that about 24% of the workers feel disengaged from their workplace and 30% in some ways felt lonely. It is very difficult to come to work feeling disengaged and lonely. It will greatly affect the outcomes that are going to happen with people in the workplace. Empathy helps leaders and managers create a space where everyone belongs. People are more comfortable working in an environment where they can go, engage and belong. And at the core of that is the empathetic skills of leaders and managers. So if you want to change the feeling of disengagement among employees then you have to increase the concept and skill of empathy among those in the workplace.
To be truly empathic you have to actively think beyond yourself and your concerns. You can develop this empathic skill by practicing some simple habits.
- Be observant of others
We spend the majority of our day dwelling on ourselves caught up in our daily routines and digital distractions but taking the time to observe others around you is a good first step in developing your empathy. Watch and wonder, try to focus on the person’s state of being rather than categorizing or labeling them. Ask yourself what kind of day are they having, how are they feeling, and challenge yourself to genuinely care about their well-being. Curiosity about others is the first step to expanding your empathy.
- Use active listening
During a conversation especially a heated one, most people formulate the response from the other person even finishing their statement. This form of communication is more verbal combat than an exchange of ideas or opinions. Avoid this reflex by slowing down rather than rushing to reply. Take a moment to consider the other person’s statement, and ask follow-up questions to better understand with a speaker intended. Try to understand their emotional state and the deeper motivations behind the statement. What life experiences led them to their current world view. Remember you don’t need to share someone’s opinion to understand it and acknowledge it. Listening will help, inform and expand your own opinion
- Open up
Learning more about other people’s experiences is a key element to seeing a world through someone else’s eyes but it is also important to open up about your feelings and experiences. Empathy is built upon mutual understanding through a combination of uncovering the deeper motivations of someone else’s position and expressing our underlying concerns we often discover a shared commonality even with those who hold different beliefs than ours through the practice of keeping an open mind.
Empathy helps us challenge prejudice, find commonality, and expand our moral universe. People outside our circle are labeled as the problem or the enemy. These labels draw lines in the sand that prevent us from moving forward or growing. It cuts us from the realization that the human experience is a shared experience. We have much more in common than we think and are just seeing small variations of the same reality.