Have you ever been so immersed in a movie that you find yourself riding an emotional rollercoaster with the characters as their stories unfold?
Whether or not you’ve experienced the same situations as the characters, by putting yourself in their shoes, you demonstrated the innate ability to understand their feelings and actions.
This is empathy shining through.
As humans, we have the ability to be empathetic, and the movie industry uses this to its advantage. Hollywood is raking in millions by sharing stories in a heartfelt way and playing on our empathy. And we willingly go along with it, because we love feeling those emotions (especially when accompanied by an ice-cold soda and bucket of buttery popcorn).
Sometimes you even connect with a character on a deeper level because their situation relates directly to your life. In this case, you’re experiencing sympathy because not only can you understand how or why the character feels that way, but you can also feel it in your own heart. The difference between being sympathetic and empathetic may not be very wide, but it is critical.
While sympathy is important in many situations, what is truly needed in today’s unprecedented workplace is empathy.
As a leader, it is vital that you exhibit empathetic leadership. You can begin increasing empathy at work by bringing in a leadership keynote speaker who will provide guidance and real-life examples of empathy in the workplace to increase productivity and employee well-being.
Why Do Modern Leaders Need Empathy?
Unless your company’s mission is to sell overpriced movie snacks and make people cry, you may be wondering, why would I want to incorporate empathy in the workplace?
Because the power of empathy is incredibly profound.
Today’s leaders are up against workplace challenges unlike any experienced before, so why not use the best tool available to help build resilience? Your team has been through incredible changes in the world and at work, not only during the pandemic but pre- and post-pandemic as well. All these changes and challenges can lead to feelings of stress and eventually, burnout.
Through empathetic leadership, you will strengthen connections within your team, build resilience, resolve conflicts peacefully, create a dynamic culture and, most importantly, show your employees that their feelings matter.
People leave jobs once they’ve reached the point of exhaustion and are not receiving support from their leaders or organization. As a leader, it’s crucial to combat this by understanding the importance of empathy in the workplace. Employees who feel heard, understood and valued are much more likely to be productive and engaged.
An added bonus is that you can take your team’s perspective into consideration when making important decisions, which will lead to greater business outcomes.
What Does Empathy Look Like at Work?
Okay, we are talking the talk, but how can we walk the walk? Empathy is one of the most important qualities someone can have, especially in the workplace, but how do you exhibit it outwardly?
Like Nike says, Just Do It. Put yourself in other people’s shoes (see what we did there?).
It’s hard to be successful in business if you can’t understand and relate to other people, especially if you deal with customers or clients. That’s why it’s important to find empathy by putting yourself in other’s shoes. Even if you haven’t shared their exact experience, you have the capacity to imagine what it might be like. When you model empathy at work, your employees will take notice and be inspired to follow suit.
For as powerful as empathy is, the act itself is magnificently simple.
The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy
As mentioned earlier, the difference between sympathy and empathy isn’t a very wide gap, but it is an important one. Sympathy is about showing compassion and kindness for someone because you relate to their situation. Empathy, on the other hand, is about understanding another person’s situation and putting yourself in their shoes (whether they are Nikes or not).
Both are important traits to model in the workplace because they are so connected. Sympathy builds empathy, which can be a catalyst for courage and action.
A great example of empathy in the workplace is having an honest conversation with your team about where they are and where they are headed, both personally and professionally. By speaking openly, you’ll make them feel supported.
The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace
There are many situations in the workplace that can stir up feelings of hurt or resentment for your employees. For example, they may feel misunderstood, have a disagreement with a coworker or believe they were unfairly passed over for a promotion. In circumstances like these, empathy at work can be incredibly powerful, and it all starts with you as the leader.
When you place value on the importance of empathy in the workplace, your employees will have a strong foundation of support to fall back on when negative feelings arise. You will have cultivated a culture of positive relationships, collaboration and effective conflict resolution. You cannot avoid feelings at work, but through empathetic leadership, you can manage them successfully.
When you encourage your employees and leadership team to step into each other’s shoes and gain new perspectives, it creates opportunities for genuine connection and mutual understanding. This results in creative solutions where everyone feels supported.
Of course, most things worth having don’t come easy, and empathy is no different. Cultivating empathy at work requires you and your team to set aside preconceptions and assumptions to truly see situations from another person’s viewpoint.
The reward is worth the work.
By creating a culture of empathy in the workplace, your employees will feel more positive and be more productive, which ultimately leads to greater success for your business.
5 Examples of How to Build Empathy in the Workplace
Remember when we discussed those feelings of empathy sparked by a movie? Now it’s time for you to incorporate them into your own organization by playing Hollywood director. First, you need a producer, which in this instance is a leadership speaker. Second, you need a script, which you can find below with these five ways to develop empathy in your workplace.
With a producer (a leadership speaker) and a script (the tips below), you’re guaranteed to create a Hollywood blockbuster. And although you may not win an Oscar, you will gain the appreciation and loyalty of your team.
Practice Active Listening
The precursor to seeing things from another person’s perspective is to listen mindfully in order to understand their viewpoint.
As a leader, actively listening is the key way to be empathetic. When your team is speaking, pay attention to their words and their energy, tone of voice and body language. When you pay attention to a person’s words and actions as a whole, you’ll be able to better understand how they feel and determine the best solution.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Yes, those shoes again. It is the key to being empathetic, especially as a leader.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own problems or feelings and react emotionally, but it’s vital to remember that everyone is bringing their own challenges and experiences to a conversation or situation.
In my latest book Change Proof, I highlight three main ways to build a change-proof culture that really work:
- Pause. Gain awareness of what is happening.
- Ask. Find a deeper understanding of the situation.
- Choose. Decide your next steps with a clear head.
Honing your ability to pause and understand where problems arise is a perfect way to be empathetic.
Acknowledge Your Own Emotions
Leaders have been taught to remain stoic at work, but it is actually beneficial to show vulnerability to your employees. Empathy is often thought of as something we feel for others, but really, it begins within ourselves.
By understanding our own emotions, we can label them, which leads to seeing how they affect our thoughts, words and actions. Through this self-awareness, we will be ready and able to practice empathy towards others.
An example of empathy in the workplace would be finding a solution to a conflict rather than stubbornly pursuing your own agenda, even if you don’t agree with your employee’s opinion.
In fact, this approach will cultivate deeper relationships. By sharing your truth and showing your feelings, others will feel comfortable doing the same. Before you know it, you will have created a culture of openness, understanding and support.
Be Respectful of Other’s Boundaries
Though the importance of empathy in the workplace cannot be overstated, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and has different boundaries.
There is a fine line between empathy and overstepping boundaries. It’s important to ensure you aren’t invading someone’s personal space or forcing them to share more than they feel comfortable with. One person’s comfort level may be vastly different than someone else’s, so be sure to walk that line carefully.
Be an Approachable and Accessible Leader
An organization’s culture begins with its leader. That is why it’s especially important for you to actively and continuously work on creating an open and welcoming environment where your team feels safe sharing their thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner.
Developing empathy requires you to show compassion by being approachable and accessible. This may mean offering support on a challenging project or simply acknowledging someone’s efforts with a kind word. Remember that small gestures have a big impact in the workplace.
When your leadership style is infused with empathy, it creates a ripple effect that builds into waves of change that flood your entire organization with positivity.
Hire a Leadership Keynote Speaker to Elevate Your Team’s Empathy
When you incorporate these examples of empathy in the workplace into your leadership style and bring in a leadership speaker to support and guide you throughout the process, you will be well on your way to cultivating empathy at work.
In addition, your employees will feel excited and motivated to know that they are the stars of the show in your Hollywood production!