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The Importance of Empathy in The Workplace (With Examples) - HRDQ

The Importance of Empathy in The Workplace (With Examples)

According to Daniel Goleman, the psychologist that popularized the notion of emotional intelligence, there are five components of a person's EQ. These are self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, motivation, and empathy.

Today, we will talk about the importance of empathy in the workplace. If you feel concerned that you aren't as empathetic as you could be, don't worry. Empathy is, luckily, a skill that can be learned and strengthened with practice.

While everyone can benefit from being more empathetic in the office, it's imperative for leaders to hone this skill. In fact, a study recently found that empathy is the most important leadership skill.

Let's take a more thorough look at why empathy is so crucial in the workplace and some examples of empathetic leadership.

What Is Empathy?

When you're able to understand the experiences and feelings of someone else, you're practicing empathy.

Woman Being Empathetic

Being empathetic can help you:

  • Develop a broader perspective on the world
  • Strengthen your ability to connect with other people
  • Understand another person's perspective

Empathy is a two-way street– it helps you understand where other people are coming from while also allowing you to grasp how your words and actions affect others. It is an incredibly beneficial skill both in the workplace and in your personal life, and it's particularly important when you're interacting with individuals that have different perspectives and backgrounds than you.

What Is the Importance of Empathy in the Workplace?

Empathy is an important skill for everyone in an organization, but it's particularly essential for those in leadership roles.

An Empathetic Workplace

Each member of your team has their perspectives, values, backgrounds, and cultural understandings. This can greatly benefit any workplace, as it provides a diversity of skillsets and ideas that allow a business to thrive. At the same time, fostering a culture of empathy is important to ensure seamless communication and healthy working relationships.

It Improves Creative Thinking

Though creativity might not be the first thing you think of when you hear the word "empathy," developing greater empathy in the workplace can significantly impact your team's ability to create innovative solutions to problems.

Employee Creatively Thinking

When you're empathetic, it means that you can put yourself in someone else's shoes. That can be hugely beneficial when you're trying to understand the needs of your target audience or the motivations of your most prominent clients.

It Allows For Better Communication

We all practice empathy naturally in conversation in certain circumstances– for example, you're going to talk to your best friend a bit differently than you would your boss. That is because you know each person's expectations for the interaction and work to adapt your communication style to suit the situation.

Employees Effectively Communicating

Practicing empathy in the workplace can revolutionize your leadership abilities because it allows you to use different communication styles depending on who you're interacting with. Over time, you'll learn to adjust your body language, voice, and manner of speaking to make the conversation productive for all parties involved.

It Strengthens Relationships in the Workplace

A Good Workplace Relationship

As a leader, it's important to you that your employees trust you. When you cultivate empathy in the workplace, you'll find that the overall culture benefits and that your workers are more likely to trust your feedback or directions. On top of that, working to understand the perspectives of your team can help build rapport in a genuine and friendly way.

It Can Boost Sales

Believe it or not, empathy can even help your organization increase its profits. This is because you can use empathy to better understand your customers, clients, and investors.

Team Meeting With a Client

Everyone has motivations when choosing a business to invest in or purchase something from. By working to understand the motivations that drive your investors and learning more about them as people, for example, you can better connect with them by appealing to the experience and knowledge they are drawing upon to make decisions.

When you understand where your customers or clients are coming from, you're better able to provide the solutions they are looking for and communicate this in a way that clicks with them. 

It Improves Customer Service

We've all had stellar customer service experiences and truly horrific ones. But what makes a customer service experience so remarkably bad?

Usually, it's a lack of empathy.

A Customer Service Employee

If you're having a problem with a product or service and you call the company to find a solution, it can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening when the person you're talking to is entirely unempathetic to your situation.

On the other hand, great customer service often involves abundant empathy. The person you're speaking with understands what your problem is and why it's a problem in the first place. They are motivated to find a solution that works for you because they empathize with you.

The better able you are to cultivate a culture of empathy in the workplace, the better customer service your team will be able to provide.

It Can Impact Recruitment

A Job Interview

Empathy is a valuable skill on both ends of the recruitment process. Potential employees can demonstrate their ability to be empathetic during a job interview, but the hiring team can also use this as an opportunity to be empathetic. Looking for a job can be incredibly stressful, and a candidate might choose one company over another if the recruiting team communicates with them empathetically during the process.

How to Be More Empathetic in the Workplace

Leader Being Empathetic

Practicing empathy in the workplace is something you can start doing right away. Being empathetic doesn't have to be a dramatic gesture; effective empathy is typically quite subtle.

Practice Active Listening

An essential skill for any professional is active listening, the process you use to intake information from a speaker or group. Active listening involves paying close attention to what is being said, taking the time to understand the conversation, and not interrupting.

Leader Actively Listening

One of the reasons this is so important is that it ensures that you are hearing what people are actually saying, not just what you expect or want them to say.

Ask Questions

When talking to other people, it's easy to tell them what we think and what we know. This is particularly true in a management position because your employees might not feel comfortable sharing their perspectives without being prompted.

One great way to be more empathetic in the workplace is to ask more questions. If your team seems uneasy about a task you're asking them to do, ask how they feel about it. Only when you gain more information can you work to solve the problem.

Leader Asking Questions

Asking questions is also very useful when talking with clients or customers. For example, if a customer is unhappy with the product they received, you can ask them specific questions about what their expectations were and how your product fell short. Doing so can help you devise a solution that works for everyone.

Try an Alternate Perspective

Interpersonal conflict is sure to crop up in any office eventually, and empathy is essential in helping to overcome this type of obstacle. This conflict can be an excellent opportunity for everyone in the office to interact empathetically and have a productive discussion about issues in the workplace.

Team Members Resolving Conflict

Rather than assuming you know who is right and wrong, work to see the situation from each individual's point of view. If you aren't quite sure what the core issue is at the heart of the conflict, ask questions until you can better grasp the central problem. Usually, the more information, the better– you might find that the conflict resolves itself once both sides can listen to the other person's concerns.

Work to Validate the Feelings of Others

Sometimes, you don't understand someone else's perspective. Other times, you might vehemently not agree with them.

Team Members Having a Conversation

Either way, you can still practice empathy by showing the other person that you value their thoughts and feelings. Even if the two of you don't end up seeing eye to eye, you can still have a beneficial conversation by being willing to acknowledge their experience.

Consider Who You're Speaking With

The more you understand your audience, the better you'll be able to communicate with them effectively. For instance, you might speak using more technical terms when communicating with an employee that has worked for you for ten years than you would for a new hire. Similarly, you might use very different language when talking to a customer than when you're talking to your superior.

A Workplace Conversation

This is worthwhile to consider even in the most casual of office conversations. For example, a member of your team might be from a different country and a different culture in a way that informs their values and perspectives. Rather than assuming that everyone is coming from the same place that you are, personalizing your communication can ensure that everyone you interact with feels heard and valued.

Examples of Empathy in the Workplace

Once you start thinking about empathy in the workplace, you begin to see opportunities for empathy in nearly every interaction. Empathy can be beneficial when interacting with employees, superiors, customers, business partners, or candidates.

Let's say you are a human resources manager working to fill a position at your company. You have struggled to find the right person for the job, and the hiring process has been tedious. Suddenly, one of your most promising candidates needs to reschedule their interview because of an emergency in their family.

This situation is an excellent opportunity for empathy. Maybe you had your day precisely scheduled, and the last-minute cancellation messes up your plans, or you feel frustrated because several people have dropped out of interviews or rescheduled.

Regardless, you can practice empathy by trying to put yourself in the candidate's shoes with the family emergency. They have a life, too, and they are likely going through something difficult. This is an opportunity to be flexible, accommodating, and kind.

Leader Displaying Empathy

Another example would be if you work for a company that sells products to consumers– let's say vacuum cleaners. You have a customer call your office and tell your customer service team that the product broke the first time they tried to use it. You could tell them that it's too late to return it, and that's how things go– plenty of companies would take this approach. However, you'll likely gain a loyal customer if you are empathetic and work to ensure that they have a working vacuum cleaner at no extra cost to them.

As a third example, let's say that you have an employee that has historically always shown up for work on time and been a great team player. Suddenly, though, they've started being consistently late and seem to be distracted once they're in the office.

Rather than firing this person because you feel they've become a lost cause, an empathetic leader would check in with them to find out what's happening. They may be dealing with personal or financial problems that make it hard to engage at work fully. By being empathetic, you can support your employee and find a solution that works for your organization.

Being empathetic doesn't have to be an overwhelming and grand gesture. Simply remembering people's names when you meet them and smiling when you shake their hands is a set of empathetic actions. You're being empathetic when you give people your full attention when they're speaking instead of letting your mind wander to all the things you have to do today. When you meet people– whether employees, customers, vendors, or anyone else– you can work to be curious about their interests and their lives.

When you're genuinely empathetic, you aren't just providing benefits to the people around you. Empathy can provide you with a richer experience, as you get to know the people around you better and you glean a fuller picture of what the human experience consists of.

Honing Your Leadership Skills: Improving Empathy and EQ

Studies have found that high levels of emotional intelligence correlate with stronger leadership skills, better relationship skills, and more effective decision-making. An essential component of emotional intelligence is empathy– the ability to understand other people's feelings, imagine yourself in their place, and view things from their perspective.

An Empathetic Leader

If you're ready to invest in your leadership skills and boost your emotional intelligence quotient, check out our Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence Customizable Course.

Have any questions about empathy or why it is essential in the workplace? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment and question we receive, and we'll gladly help you out however we can!

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.