What does it mean to be empathetic?
The idiom “take a walk in someone else’s shoes” is the definition of empathy, or the ability to identify and understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place.
Empathy in the workplace can go a long way. According to a 2020 Workplace Empathy Study, 90 percent of employees, CEOs, and human resources professionals say empathy is important in the workplace, and 83 percent said they would leave their organization for a similar role at another company that exercised more empathy. About 72 percent of CEOs acknowledged that empathy in the workplace still has a way to go to evolve. While 91 percent of CEOs say their own company is empathetic, only 68 percent of employees agree. “Empathy, or the ability to understand and relate to others’ emotions and perspectives, is critical in the workplace because most of us work with other people,” says Patricia Thompson, PhD corporate psychologist, and creator of the 21 Day Crash Course in Emotional Intelligence. “Whether we want to collaborate with them, persuade them, or lead them, it’s helpful to have a sense of where they’re coming from. When we can sense what they’re feeling in the moment, we can communicate more effectively. Further, when we know what’s important to them, we can ensure that they’re getting their needs met. This will likely help them to perform better, and will probably do the same for us.”
Thompson says a study showed that leaders who are more empathetic have been found to have followers who experience less stress and physical symptoms. “That same study found that empathetic entrepreneurs were more effective at motivating and leading employees, helping them to cope with workplace stress. They were also more attuned to their customers wants, and had higher customer satisfaction.”
Ways to practice empathy at work
In the workplace, empathy can take on many forms. Here are some ways to practice empathy when working in the office or virtually.
1. Take time to connect with others
Thompson says instead of just getting straight to work and zeroing in on your daily tasks and projects, check in with your coworkers. “Make sure to take time to connect on a human level, by asking others how they are doing, and learning about them on a personal level. This will give you a more well-rounded picture of who they are, which will help you to understand them on a deeper level,” she suggests.
2. Ask questions and really listen to the answer
Being empathetic means you have to be able to really hear what the other person is saying. “To be more empathetic you have to be open to learning more about the people around you and what makes them tick. Asking questions and listening will enable you to get a better sense of where they are coming from,” says Thompson. Take the time to have casual conversations and share work experiences and life outside of the office. Face to face discussions are ideal so you can also observe one’s body language, but in the age of working from home, turning on your web camera is an alternative.
3. Be open to other perspectives
Taking into account other viewpoints when tackling a work project or even in general conversation helps you have more empathy. “Practice considering others perspectives, particularly those who you see as being different from you,” says Thompson. “When you are able to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes and look at things from their point of view, it deepens your ability to be empathetic.”
4. Avoid stereotyping
It can be frustrating to see a coworker unmotivated or not pulling their fair share of the load; however, it’s important to not pass judgement or make assumptions. Assuming the worst will drive you crazy and affect your workplace happiness.
5. Meditate and read to develop empathy
Thompson says there is a type of meditation called lovingkindness that allows you to become more intentional about considering the humanity of others and wishing them well. “Research has found that people who took part in a lovingkindness meditation practice actually did develop more compassion and empathy for the people around them.” She also says reading novels encourages looking at life from someone else’s perspective because it helps you to get inside their head and see why they make the choices they make and understand them.
Read more: 10 Fiction Books We Can’t Put Down
5 signs that someone lacks empathy
Empathy is a skill that is acquired over time, but how can you be sure if someone is completely lacking it? Thompson says sometimes completing a 360 review will help open a person’s eyes to their lack of empathy. “Often, when people are low on empathy, they might not be aware of how their behaviors are having an impact on others.”
Here are some ways to determine if someone is lacking empathy.
1. They make decisions without considering interpersonal elements
Thompson says their decision may look good on paper, but they are surprised that their decision isn’t well received by others.
2. If they connect with others only in business
They lack empathy if they aren’t taking the time to learn about people outside work and on a personal level. “They may even push others too hard or not care about others lives outside of work because they are only focused on metrics and goals,” says Thompson.
3. They are critical
The biggest sign is they are always looking at what others do wrong and are less likely to offer praise or encouragement. “They are often poor at influencing others, because they are unable to anticipate other’s perspectives,” says Thompson.
4. Poor interpersonal skills
Thompson says those lacking interpersonal skills may be socially awkward and have a hard time reading others and connecting. Those skills may include poor communication, not caring about others, and they don’t work well with others.
5. Unreceptive to other’s opinions
This often happens when people are more focused on getting their own way instead of making sure everyone feels heard and are able to make a contribution. It’s usually their way or no way at all.
Ultimately, taking the time to see things from each other’s perspective and responding in a compassionate way will help you develop a higher level of empathy and influence in the workplace.
About our source
Dr. Patricia Thompson is a PhD–level corporate psychologist with a 15-plus-year proven track record of assisting leaders in accomplishing their goals. A trusted advisor and business confidante, she is a sought-after leadership expert and executive coach whose advice has been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, CNN, and many other media outlets.