How would you describe a superpower in the workplace? Words such as “inspirational,” “influential” and “powerful” would come to mind, but you would rarely think of “empathetic.”
Empathy is a skill which is often overlooked in the workplace. Determined by Frans de Waal as the “social glue that holds human society together,” empathy refers to the awareness of one’s own and other people’s feelings, needs and concerns. Having the ability to be empathetic has been proven to prevent poor morale, misunderstandings and conflicts, consequently enabling a person to build significant and long-lasting relationships with others. Empathy, therefore, is the underrated key ingredient for both personal and professional success.
Empathy vs. sympathy: what's the difference?
Even though many people believe empathy and sympathy are similar, they are in fact completely different qualities. Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, emotions and experiences of another individual, whereas sympathy provokes feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. In other words, empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, being aware of her feelings and considerate of her needs.
How can you develop empathy in the workplace?
Most of the time, we forget to take into consideration how other people are feeling because we are so preoccupied with our own thoughts. This mindset can cause misunderstandings and conflict among the team, consequently creating a toxic and pressured environment. It is for this reason that employees need to be self-aware and more aware of others, taking the time to understand the other person’s feelings before passing judgment. For instance, when speaking to your colleagues, do not just take what they are saying at face value; think about what is being said and how they are saying it. Are there certain facial expressions, gestures or pace of speech that are contradicting what they are saying? Being aware of the non-verbal cues and reflecting on what has been said will allow your team to recognise and respond in a much more supportive way.
Be willing to listen.
It takes more than being observant to be empathetic; you also need to be willing to listen. A recent report from Oxford Open Learning Trust shows that the top three skills business leaders seek from their employees are people skills (71 per cent), team-working skills (70 per cent) and strong effective communication (68 per cent). All of these skills require one important ability: listening. Whether your colleagues want to pitch an idea or they are seeking advice, being prepared to listen to these queries will increase team collaboration as well as create a more positive and supportive network. Particularly for aspiring leaders or managers, empathy enables you to switch the focus from your personal ambitions to those of the team, helping others with their career development and understanding what is best for the company’s success.
Remember the company’s vision.
In a Development Dimensions International (DDI) study of over 15,000 leaders worldwide, empathy was determined as the number one most critical driver of employee performance. Why? Empathy transpires in how your company shares its vision with its employees. Allowing your employees to feel a part of a network that is working collaboratively towards the same goal can result in a more dynamic workforce. Create a monthly internal journal where your employees can celebrate company success, discuss current projects and even participate in competitions will enable your employees to see the bigger picture and support the company’s values, generating an inclusive, positive and cooperative work culture.
Why does empathy matter in the workplace?
According to a study by Businessolver, 31 per cent of employees believe profit is all that matters to their organization, and that their company does not care about its employees. This statistic demonstrates how a substantial amount of employees worldwide see their workplace as emotionless, demanding and high-pressured, believing that their organization’s sole purpose is to drive financial success, even at the expense of its workforce. Having this perception spread through the business can be extremely harmful to the company’s vision, diminish team productivity and reduce employee morale.
People are the foundation of any successful company. It is for this reason that the kind of atmosphere that is promoted can either develop or hinder the future of the business. By enacting a more empathetic approach will generate a much more respectful, positive and productive work environment for the team, consequently transforming you into a superpower that stands the test of time.
The article was first published on Entrepreneur.com