Empathy: “noun. the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” -the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Being aware of the emotions of those around you is absolutely vital to ensure a functioning workplace. Otherwise, conflicts will not be resolved, teams will be less productive, and relationships with co-workers and clients will be poor.
Though the majority of people are eager to acquire new skills, many dread the notion of improving their interpersonal skills—particularly when the subject of feelings is brought up—it simply makes many people feel awkward or self-conscious. Let go of that mindset. Empathy training will help you build strong connections, create a work climate of openness, and increase not only your own morale but the morale of those around you. Not to mention, you and your team’s productivity will improve.
This article will not only reveal what it truly means to show empathy in the workplace but also display how to do so and why empathy training can benefit you and your company.
Empathy is the capacity to interpret emotions in other people and to comprehend other people’s viewpoints of a situation. Empathy helps a person apply the notion of perception to make another person’s mood better and to help the person out with difficult situations.
Don’t mistake empathy for sympathy. The two are very different. Sympathy means to feel concerned for another person and recognize that he/she doesn’t feel happy. Sympathy doesn’t involve having a similar viewpoint. Empathy does. For example, if you saw a co-worker crying at their desk, you would probably have some sympathy—even if you did not know why he/she was crying. However, if you witnessed that same co-worker being bullied or harassed in the office—you might feel empathy, as you’d think back in your life to a time when someone bullied or harassed you. This would mean that you empathized with that person.
Empathy in the workplace usually occurs in three different stages and those stages are the main focus of empathy training:
Cognitive empathy is the capacity of a person to comprehend how others are thinking and feeling. The person who applies comprehension does not need to have any emotional investment to process cognitive empathy.
How this applies to the workplace: Team leaders should view cognitive empathy as a necessity in being able to understand how their workers feel; thus, a leader can easily determine what management style is best to use at that moment. Sales executives should take advantage of it to determine a customer’s current mental state; thus, the most effective tone can be established and the sale is more likely to be made.
Cognitive empathy is not always positive. Team leaders should be aware when an employee is abusing cognitive empathy to take advantage of their co-workers by preying on anyone who is emotionally weak. That’s another advantage of empathy training—not only will it bring out an employee’s good nature—it will stop bad situations from occurring in the workplace.
2) Emotional Empathy
Emotional empathy means having the capacity to relate to the feelings of someone else; thus, a level of genuine understanding forms. It’s also referred to as “affective empathy” due to it affecting and altering a person’s perception.
How this applies to the workplace: Emotional empathy means more than just realizing how someone feels. It’s about establishing rapport. And having good rapport in the workplace is absolutely necessary—this is a central benefit of empathy training. Anyone in charge of leading workers will be rewarded by developing a sense of emotional empathy. The leader will develop a culture of honesty and strong communication. A strong leader should prevent workers from experiencing emotional burnout by taking some breaks, reevaluating what the boundaries are, and ensuring the right emotional tools are being used to get the best out of the employees. Empathy training ensures all of this takes place.
3) Compassionate Empathy
Compassionate empathy is when your empathy turns into action. It means not just being concerned about someone, and finding common ground in their disenchantment, but doing all within your power to ensure someone’s needs are being met.
How this applies to the workplace: Say, for instance, one of your employees is sad and upset because he/she did a poor job giving a presentation. Openly conceding their disappointment is important, and attesting to their discouragement by showing signs of those feelings in your own genuine way is even more important. But most important of all, is setting aside some time for that employee to discuss how future presentations can be improved and let he/she know that you are on their side and want them to succeed.
How to Strengthen Empathy in the Workplace
You might have difficulty showing empathy at first—that’s okay—many people do. Many people feel nervous when committing to an emotional perspective or even feel like they aren’t capable of this perspective. Again, put aside your fears and doubts, and also your own perspective. To utilize empathy in an effective manner, you have to be able to set aside your own point of view and see things from the other people’s own perspectives. Empathy training will help you thrive at this. You can then instantly recognize your employee’s behavior in any form—whether emotional, hostile, enthused, etc. The emotions of your employees do not appear out of anywhere. They’re based on an individual’s previous experiences and the knowledge acquired from those experiences.
Empathy training will teach you to utilize the following techniques every day so they start to become second nature. As a result, morale and rapport will improve at your company.
1) Devote Plenty of Attention
Listen closely to what an employee is attempting to communicate to you. Don’t just use your ears—use your eyes and intuition (what you feel in your gut) to comprehend what the person is telling you.
Begin this process by listening for key terms and phrases that the employee brings up, especially if any of the terms are repeated. Don’t just think about what they’re saying. Analyze how they’re saying it. What sort of tone are they speaking in? What does their body language mean? Are they disappointed, upset or hurt, for example?
Take this to the next level by not just listening, but empathically listening. Do not blindly ask any direct questions, argue with what the employee is saying, or dispute the facts of the matter. Just be adjustable and help steer the conversation in a positive direction as the employee verbalizes his/her perspective to you.
2) Take the Employee’s Perspective into Account
Before you examine an employee’s attitude, examine your own, and stay open-minded. Having too much confidence in your own system of beliefs and perspective does not leave much room for empathy to be present. Once you take a step back and realize why an employee sees things the way he/she does, you will have a better understanding of the situation. This does not mean you have to automatically agree with the person—you of course, never have to—but save the debate for later until you fully understand what’s taking place in a team member’s mind.
Exemplify your courtesy and remain respectful. When you experience unsureness, ask the employee to, firstly, describe their opinion some more, and secondly, tell you how they think the issue should be resolved. Asking quality questions is usually the easiest and most effective way to comprehend an employee’s perspective.
3) Decide What’s Right to Do and Do it
There’s no singular right thing to in any situation, particularly, a work situation where you must compassionately utilize empathy. It all depends on the variables of the scenario, the personality traits of the particular employee, and what they experienced emotionally. A quality team leader must always keep in mind that empathy is never about what you desire, but what your team member needs to thrive; thus, any solution you implement or suggest has to benefit that team member.
For example, you might oversee an employee who’s struggling to focus on their tasks due to a problem at home. You may believe the right thing to do is to let them work at home until the issue improves; however, being away from home and coming to work every day may actually be what that person needs as a necessary distraction in the coming weeks. Thus, ask the employee what he/she feels would be the best resolution to the problem.
Keep in mind that empathy training is not just to prevent crises from taking place. Viewing an individual through a lens of perspective is an important ability—and it’s an action you can utilize in any work situation. Never lose sight of the fact that random acts of kindness go a long way to boost morale and create a good rapport. For example, it’s very likely you smile at work sometimes and always remember your employee’s names. That is empathy in action. You see, not only are you capable of applying empathy to work situations, you’re already executing doing it. Giving team members your one hundred percent attention in meetings, asking questions about themselves and their interests, and providing encouraging feedback are all examples of putting empathy into action.
Practice these techniques often in the workplace. When you show curiosity in what others do and feel, you will establish notoriety for being attentive, dependable, and welcoming. This will help you become a better team leader.
Empathy means having the capacity to interpret emotions and share viewpoints with others. It helps to establish trust and improve your work relationships. This is the purpose of empathy training.
Three stages of empathy to be conscious of at work:
-Cognitive empathy: being aware of your team member’s emotions.
-Emotional empathy: engaging with the emotional needs of your team members.
-Compassionate empathy: applying action to support your team members.
To use empathy effectively, give your employees your complete attention. Always be on the look-out for any verbal/nonverbal clues that can help you understand the situation. Put aside any presumptions, recognize your employee’s feelings, work towards building an emotional connection, and then take action to improve the employee’s well-being. Do this, and at the end of the day, perhaps your own well-being will be improved. But remember- empathy training programs will always be available, should you or your organization struggle in any way, shape, or form.