Empathy in the Workplace

“If you could only walk a mile in my shoes, you’d understand.” How many times have you heard someone say this. How many times have you wished it for yourself? After all, understanding is what so many of us long for, just a moment of someone seeing the world through our eyes. We long for someone to step outside of themselves, away from their own ID and say I see you.

The Great Disconnect Between Empathy and Business

It seems that employees and CEOs disagree on empathy in the workplace. A 2018 study by Businessolver, State of the Workplace Empathy, showed that when it comes to empathy, they aren’t on the same page. Of the respondents, 92% of CEOs believed their organization to be empathetic. However, only half (50%) of the employees felt that their CEO was empathetic.

CEOs do recognize that some things need to change in regard to empathy within their organizations. In fact, 68% said that something needs to be done to create a more empathetic culture in the workplace. The problem is, most simply don’t know how to make that happen. Nearly half (45%) report that they find it difficult to demonstrate empathy in their working life.

Most employees feel that empathy is important at work and believe it is undervalued. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that a person spends most of their waking time at work – or a good portion of it anyway. The better we treat each other, the better we feel about ourselves – and the better we function on both a personal and professional level.

How does Empathy Fit into the Workplace?

Empathy is the ability to “walk a mile in their shoes.” It is understanding a person’s feelings, their point of view, their needs. While it is typically discussed in the context of personal relationships, empathy is also extremely valuable in the workplace. When you can relate to the way someone thinks, the experiences they’ve had, or the emotions that affect them in certain circumstances, you have to power to solidify a team and boost morale.

After all, businesses are comprised of people – living, breathing humans who come from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and operate from different perspectives. By showing that you care about your coworkers, by expressing empathy and finding ways to relate to them on a more personal level, you show them that they matter, that you respect them.

4 Keys to being an Empathetic Leader

Empathy is a skill that must be practiced regularly. It does not come naturally to some people so taking conscious steps to bring it to your workplace may take some effort. These five steps will get you started.

  • Don’t place yourself above your people. Get in the trenches with your people now and then. It is easier to understand and empathize with someone when you are one of them as opposed to someone who is over them.
  • Find the emotional connection. You may not always understand why someone did something, so instead of trying to approach it from than angle, find a way to connect to the emotions they experienced. You don’t have to understand the rationality behind why they experienced that emotion, only that they did.
  • Listen to the why behind the words and actions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but really listen to the answers. This can be very telling. When an employee makes a mistake or there is a problem, avoid the symptom and look for the root of the issue. It could be a lack of resources or support, the employee may need more training, or any number of things. Fix the cause and put the band aids away.
  • Ask yourself, “What if that happened to me?” This is an old empathy lesson that your mother probably taught you. It can be applied to any situation. When you approach a situation and are dealing with an employee, think how you would feel if you were in their shoes. Flipping the perspective can make you a more effective, empathetic leader.

The International Association of Women (IAW) is a global network that connects female professionals. Whether you want to refocus your career, grow your business, or become a more effective leader, we can help you get there. Join IAW today and enjoy the benefits of membership.

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