Empathy can be difficult to quantify. You can’t exactly write KPIs for ‘caring enough’ or ‘being a decent person. Demonstrated the right way in the workplace can be a tool for effective leadership and a huge factor in motivating and uniting your team. An empathetic workplace will produce higher levels of loyalty and productivity, increased motivation and collaboration, and improved client relationships.
What is empathy and why is it important? And it is important. Yes, it is. It is! Stop arguing with a blog.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
In its purest form empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. It’s not rocket science, granted, but it’s not always simple to execute. And like most of the best things, it’s important at work but also a rather handy ace to have up your sleeve when it comes to everyday life.
A prime example of a lack of empathy in action is the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. One might safely assume his cup hardly runneth over in the empathy department – and just look at the staff turnover his organization had. Being concerned about others doesn’t seem to be high on his list of priorities, but for a good leader it should be, and always.
Business can be cutthroat.
Business can be cutthroat, but an astute business mind and a genuine sense of empathy in the workplace don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You don’t need to start a daily hugging circle, but this doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover either.
First up, listen. Preschool teachers tell our children we all have two ears and one mouth for a reason – to listen twice as much as we speak.
Listening to others with understanding is an invaluable skill applicable to all aspects of working life. That said, your response to what you’ve been told is almost as valuable. It’s important to really listen to what others are saying and not immediately turn the conversation back towards something which happened to you.
Another strong aspect of an empathetic workplace is thinking before you speak. Remember the old classic that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt. In electronic terms, give yourself a cooling-off period before you send that email or text in the heat of the moment. Return to it half an hour later, reread, and ask yourself if that’s the message you’re really trying to convey.
Gaining and keeping trust is crucial.
What you do with the information you’re privy to is also important. Gaining and keeping trust is a crucial part of fostering an empathetic spirit in the workplace. If someone confides in you it’s imperative you keep that information to yourself. As tempting as it might be to spread around the Joanie from Accounts is a gambler or Ken the Sales Manager is terrified of speaking in front of a group, just don’t.
Empathic communication also manifests non-verbally. Maintain eye contact, and avoid checking emails or messages during a catch-up or conversation. We can inadvertently let these things slip over the course of a day, so it’s important to have an awareness of your non-verbal gestures and realign if necessary.
Do I look like I want to be somewhere else? Do I look like I can’t wait for them to stop talking? Do I look like I’m hanging out for someone more interesting to come along? Not only a physical display of empathy but basic good manners.
Your staff needs a few things.
Your staff needs a few things. Support. Appreciation. Understanding. Valuing. (Or SAUV, handily my favorite wine.) They are not cyborgs. View your workmates for the fascinating, flawed humans they are.
This leads to fostering a great team spirit, which in turn motivates people and leads to a reduction in staff turnover. Your whole office doesn’t have to be best buddies, and extracurricular activities don’t always have to revolve around alcohol. Set goals together, celebrate achievement together, work hard – and when the occasion calls for it, play hard together.
Whether management or not, an empathetic workplace nurtures a genuine interest in those around you and a willingness to help them. If you can’t help them, try and find a way to support them.
People want to feel as though they are being heard.
People want to feel as though they are being heard, and that what they say is valued and taken seriously. From an empathetic standpoint, it’s important to take their views on a matter into consideration when decision making. Respect staff feedback and take it seriously – but only to a point. The workplace is rarely a democracy, and not everyone’s going to like the way things are done. That’s not a disservice to them, that’s life.
If in doubt, remember this life lesson that never loses its relevance: just don’t be a prick.
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