Without empathy it is not possible to get the best from your team, so for this reason it is the key to everything.” – Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
One of the most important skills in today’s workplace is the ability for leaders to develop and establish empathy. When leaders and all employees operate from a place of empathy, they are more likely to resolve conflict but most importantly they will be able to build productive and efficient teams. This skill allows you to relate to people, build relationships and when we look at it from the lens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, this skill develops belonging in people and cultures. People within your organization will not feel a sense of belonging unless leaders and the company sees, understands them and have policies that are empathetic towards them.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and recognize the feelings and emotions, as well as viewpoints, of others around you. People with higher levels of empathy are more skilled at understanding situations from other people’s perspectives and react accordingly, with more compassion. When it comes to empathy in the workplace, it allows employees to establish genuine, empathetic connections with colleagues that foster relationships and improve performance.
How to practice Empathy?
It is important for you to know that empathy is a skill you must practice in order to embody, there is also no “cookie cutter” way to practice empathy in the workplace. Many times is as simple as listening to your colleague’s story, weekend or noticing and sensing when an employee may be in an uncomfortable situation. You may noticed how many people on a Monday will start by asking how your weekend was, and we have seen experiences where the persons asks and doesn’t even wait to hear what their colleague responded. This are some small ways you can build empathy, by meaning what you said, and being attentive to their answer. The most important thing to know when it comes to DE&I is that building empathy is about respecting different opinions whether you agree or disagree. By practicing empathy, you avoid quick judgement and stereotyping. Keep in mind that there is difference between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is demonstrating pity for someone else, without truly understanding their situation. Empathy is the capacity to look through another person’s eyes and see the situation from their perspective, experience, emotions, and needs. In the workplace, empathy helps develop a clearer awareness between people. Below are some examples of how to practice empathy in the workplace:
Listen. Simple yet most people have a very hard time practicing it, listening is about being attentive, engaged and open to the conversation you are having with another person. It is important that you avoid being distracted by thoughts of the story and truly step into a place of presence. When we interpret conversations and we aren’t fully present, there can be a lot of miss-communication that can happen, especially if feelings are involved. This is such an important skill leaders must develop, employees need to know they are being heard and understood.
Recognize feelings. We all know, or at least we hope that most people are aware that the workplace can be a place of stress. There are people that can handle stress better than others, and are in a space where they are more reactive to situations at work. Make sure that you always communicate with empathy by expressing respect and kindness, and you will get what you need faster. Ignoring that they don’t have a life outside of work, will ultimately hurt your culture.
Ask Questions. Many know that a skill we can develop alongside with listening is to ask questions, when you ask questions during the conversation it helps to stay present but also engaged letting your colleagues know that you are indeed interested and paying attention. When asking questions try to be specific to the concerns.
If leaders and employees are working in a culture where empathy is not valued, you culture will suffer from a lack of empathy. One reason why empathy often fails is because people at the end of the day are human and most of the time they don’t realise that what they are saying or how they are saying it can affect others. Leaders and employees can often get stuck in a mindless routine and forget to take note of their actions. Always remember to be empathetic and to sympathetic, why? because sympathy does not require action, and what people need to gain trust, belonging and ultimately be happy at work is for people to take action.
Empathy in the Workplace is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Let’s be clear, Learning empathy will not happen overnight. Empathy is a soft skill that often lacks development and understanding throughout organizations. Just like some people handle stress better than others, some people are naturally more empathetic than others.
Organizations from the top-down need to encourage empathy skills from day one. To develop empathy takes time and energy, and it also varies depending on the individual and their own specific needs. For a lot of organizations, it has not been a priority. It is now more important than ever, being in the climate that we work where remote work is becoming the norm.
Just remember to keep the few tips mentioned above, top-of-mind: listen, ask questions, and recognize everyone has feelings. If you are looking for speakers, customized sessions for your leaders, feel free to reach out to us via email@example.com to see how we can help your leaders and workforce develop and practice this very important skill.