Empathy is your ability to understand someone else’s perspective by putting yourself in their shoes. In other words, it means you try to understand how someone thinks and feels without necessarily having had the same experience. As a result, you become more compassionate and understanding.
When it comes to the workplace, empathy holds the potential to energize your employees with real connections across the board. The ability to put yourself in your coworkers’ and employees’ shoes means you can better take into consideration their point of view and any concerns they have. You can use these perspectives to create meaningful change. At VP Legacies, we value Personal Connection® as a way to satisfy your employees and increase employee retention. Here’s how you can use empathy to improve your workplace culture.
Empathy Affects Work Culture
Studies about empathy have shown that a more empathetic workforce results in better employee retention, communication, culture, quality of work-life, and productivity. The main reason for this is that empathy helps to promote the following in a workplace culture:
- Employees feel able to openly communicate – not just when they’re successful, but when they face challenges. Empathy improves internal communication by reassuring employees that their colleagues will do their best to understand them and help them through challenges rather than placing blame.
- Your company leadership understands employee performance in greater detail. Being able to empathize with employees will allow you to use emotional intelligence to have a sense of their needs. For instance, a lack of employee engagement may indicate a need to create a custom eLearning plan for more professional development opportunities.
- In any task-based situation, it’s easier to process ideas and address problems put forth by fellow employees if you act with empathy. It fosters better internal communication by helping you know the right questions to ask. As a result, you’ll communicate responses with effective word choice, tone, and content based on the other person’s perspective.
Learn more about empathy in the workplace with Personal Connection® 101, VP Legacies’ eLearning course for businesses.
Given the potentially productive aspects of empathy, the fact of the matter is that empathy in the workplace is often still lacking. A lot of that has to do with the innate challenges involved in cultivating the skill of empathy. Acting with empathy can be a challenge for the following reasons.
- Self-awareness and understanding are lifelong skills that need to be strengthened over time. Doing this when it comes to someone else is even more challenging. We’re often focused on the tasks that we need to complete, preventing us from connecting with those around us. Being aware of the way we inhabit space allows us to connect better.
- Vulnerability is key to empathy, it involves putting someone else’s wants and needs above oneself. This means you need to be truly committed to helping your colleagues, and that often takes some emotional labor. In the workplace context where we often behave in a way to remind others of our authority, we may actually be intimidating others and putting up barriers.
- Workplaces are built on putting the ‘business’ and company values first. To some, empathy looks like sacrificing business for employee satisfaction. In reality, the two are inextricably intertwined. After all, you need your employees to reach your bottom line, and their happiness should be a priority.
It takes some effort to be an authentically empathetic leader, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. Your hard work will show employees that you’re willing to reciprocate their best efforts.
Some Ways Empathy Helps the Workplace
Workplaces commonly involve what’s known as passive listening, and many workplace surveys indicate roughly 30% of employees feel that their opinions don’t matter.
This is where better communication in the form of active listening can help. It’s challenging, but this means ensuring that:
- You acknowledge colleagues when they are communicating, either by nodding or giving verbal indication. Sometimes, it helps to repeat or rephrase what they say just to make sure you understand fully.
- Asking clarifying questions and leaving back and forths open-ended. A common practice of doing this is by always responding with ‘Yes, and…’ that allows the conversation to continue.
- Keeping the environment distraction-free during a discussion. This involves having laptop screens closed, and mobiles put away.
In addition to all of this, it is ensuring one’s accessible and available for colleagues to reach out and talk to you.
Ask specific questions
Beyond active listening, it’s also important to get better at asking the right questions to promote a culture of empathy. The key here is asking questions that deep-dive and get to the core of an issue or discussion. By doing this, you’re better able to understand the other person’s perspective.
Examples of deep-dive questioning are introducing specificity and focusing on key details. Follow up with questions that uncover the who, what, when, where, and most important, the ‘why’.
Avoid any ‘one-size-fits’ all questions, that are far too open-ended and such as ‘Okay, what’s the issue?’ but try to triangulate a specific area to better understand when asking a question.
Promote assurance and an open mind
Creating a culture that promotes acknowledgment and assurance is also key in helping build up empathy in the workplace. What this means is to approach coworkers with an open mind and acknowledge that what they have done or will do is in one’s own and company’s best interest.
When issues arise in the workplace, it’s common to make judgments based on one’s own experiences. Promoting an empathetic workplace means that one makes an effort to realize that a workplace consists of a wide range of roles and teams, and effective internal communication should incorporate multiple perspectives.
Each department and each employee faces their own struggles. Without being in their shoes, it’s hard to fully understand the reasons behind what’s going on.
Statements of assurance and acknowledgment can be powerful here, so a good practice when a workplace issue arises is to communicate with a preface of “I hear what you’re saying” or “I understand your frustration” before diving in.
This lets the other person know that you have tried to empathize and keep their perspective in mind.
Related: 10 Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover
Be more open with colleagues
One of the main factors to a great culture at work is when employees genuinely love to spend time with each other. This means you need to foster deep Personal Connection®, and empathy helps a lot here.
By not keeping your coworkers an arm’s length away and being more open with them about yourself, your experiences, and your challenges can foster Personal Connection® and strengthen professional bonds.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Developing the ability to empathize with colleagues doesn’t happen overnight. Empathy involves mastering a lot of pieces such as the ability to be more introspective, ask better questions, and listen more actively, and much more.
It’s important to start slowly and focus on one of these areas. Generally, becoming a more effective communicator at work is the best first step towards mastering empathy.
And don’t let any setbacks deter progress. It’s a challenging endeavor but once mastered can mean a more productive and fulfilling work environment.
Help Employees Feel Heard
An empathetic workplace means more compassion and percolates through the office. Colleagues are more cordial and understanding of one another, and this means resolving issues quickly while fostering teamwork. Empathy reminds your employees that you care about their emotional wellbeing. With this knowledge, they’ll feel comfortable coming to you to share challenges and successes.
If you want to get started creating an empathetic workplace, our Personal Connection® 101 course is a great start. You’ll learn how to connect meaningfully with employees in real life and with online platforms, creating a workplace culture that values connectivity.
Find a course that meets your company’s goals at VP Legacies.