Is Your Company Emphasizing Empathy?

Published:
August 4, 2022

One in three people would switch jobs for a more empathetic company, according to Businessolver. And 40% would work longer hours for that more empathetic employer.

Empathy is a stronger performance indicator than you might think. It marks high levels of compassion and understanding, which are positively associated with workplace achievement.

Let’s define empathy: you probably know it as the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. But empathy can look different depending on the situation.

In your personal life, empathy might be counseling your friends or supporting your family members. But in the workplace, exercising empathy is a necessary step toward your goals. Your capacity for empathy affects not only your relationships, but also your team performance.

Empathetic leaders show their team they care about their needs and accomplishments. And while many leaders make an effort to practice empathy, few succeed — Businesssolver found that only one in four employees believes empathy at their company is sufficient.

How can I support empathy in my workplace?

Be quiet.

Not just outside, but inside. To understand someone else’s feelings, you need to first understand your own. Take time to reflect and collect your thoughts.

Our energy isn’t endless. When you’re suffering from burnout, you may be too consumed with your own struggles to think of others. Focus on nourishing yourself so you can best nourish those around you. You can read about our tips for beating burnout here.

Watch and listen.

The voice is only one of many communication tools. When you’re trying to figure out how someone feels, cues from eye contact, posture, and facial expressions can be more accurate than words.

But as our jobs grow increasingly remote, we rely more on digital correspondence. How can you read body language from a Slack message?

The simple answer: you can’t. Nowadays, in addition to muddling through distorted audio and grainy video, we have to learn to read emotion through text. This is a slippery slope, since it’s easy to misinterpret a sender’s intentions. Here are some tips for navigating emotion digitally:

  • Assume the best intentions. Unless the sender explicitly says “I’m upset,” don’t assume they’re upset.
  • Generally, don’t assume how someone feels. By trying to fill in the gaps, you project your feelings onto someone else. Encourage others to elaborate on their feelings instead of drawing conclusions.
  • Understand that people interpret things differently. Before you hit send, proofread to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong message.
  • Seek more information. If you can’t decipher a text, lean on others for support. Has anyone else spoken to this person today? How did it go?

Text messages obscure emotions; hiding behind a screen hinders authenticity. To combat this, a culture of transparency and honesty is paramount. When employees understand that telling the truth will always lead to better consequences, they’re more likely to be open with others.

Facilitate conversation.

During the summer of 2020, employees at Zendesk began holding “empathy circles.” By and for employees, these circles were made for opening up. They were surprisingly effective: 95% of participants said the circles helped build a safe space and empathy in the workplace, and 96% said they would recommend the experience to a colleague or friend.

While you don’t necessarily need to implement empathy circles, this case shows that employees value opportunities to share their experiences in the workplace. Whether through social hours, anonymous feedback, or structured discussion time, be sure to give your team a chance to talk.

Apply what you learn.

Note a key difference between sympathy and empathy: empathy is action-oriented. Sympathetic leaders acknowledge problems; empathetic leaders find solutions.

Thus, listening to your employees isn’t just about hearing them. It’s about processing, understanding, and applying what they say. It’s about manifesting their feedback as tangible change.

Want to learn more about helping your employees feel valued? Empathy and recognition walk hand in hand. Click here to learn about why commending your employees is essential.

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