The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The Merriam Webster Dictionary states that empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Empathy is essential in the workplace because it is good for business and positions us to be more compassionate, helpful, as well as connected and able to resonate with others. It is about going through the struggle, the challenge, the journey together to achieve winning outcomes for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, research suggests that empathy is on a decline. Empathy and compassion are essential to delivering optimal customer experiences, services, and products in the workplace. For example, suppose an employee shares a new training product idea. It will likely involve researchers, instructional designers, subject matter experts, customers, trainers, quality reviewers, accountants, marketing, and business development professionals to bring the idea to a successful reality.
Four practical ways to demonstrate empathy at work:
- Be an active listener – In a Harvard Business Review article, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman state that good listening is about doing three things well: 1) “Not talking when others are speaking; 2) Letting others know you are listening through facial expressions and verbal sounds; and 3) Being able to repeat what others have said, practically word for word.”
- Be generous in your thought leadership – Have courage and vision to lean in and look ahead, treat people and their diverse perspectives with respect, take action that solves problems, and recognize others for their hard work and creativity.
- Be objective and nonjudgmental – It begins with a healthy portion of self-love and confidence in oneself, followed by “seeking first to understand, then to be understood.” Practicing mindfulness and resonance can help.
- Build trusting relationships– In his book, The Speed of Trust, Steven Covey states that “When trust goes down, speed goes down and costs go up. When trust goes up, speed goes up, and costs go down.” In other words, empathy and economics are close cousins.
Many people avoid embracing empathy because it is deep and hard work. It involves emotional intelligence, intellectual abilities, and economics. However, putting these practical steps into practice promises better outcomes to include enhanced relationships, more productive people, and a strong finish.