C&T Scene: Practicing empathy in the workplace, August 2021

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” said Alfred Adler (Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology, 1870-1937).

It is further defined as the ability to identify and understand the wants, needs, fears, and viewpoints of others without experiencing them firsthand, but being able to put yourself in their proverbial shoes.

How do we demonstrate empathy in the workplace?

  • New employees start in your department. Imagine how nervous they might be. Make time to get to know them. Take them to lunch. Assure them that you are there to help them adjust and answer any questions they may have.
  • If conflict happens, slow the interaction down and look at the matter from the other person’s perspective. Although this does not denote agreement, it helps a person to feel understood and allows you space to not overreact and make an inaccurate assumption. Try to understand what that person may be feeling and why.
  • Workmates may be ill and out of the office for several days. Check in with them to see how they feel and if there is anything you can do to help. Is there a project they have that you can work on in their absence?
  • Recognize feelings of others even when they may not be obvious. This is emotional intelligence. It helps to build trust between team members and managers, and to develop open and honest communication demonstrated by action.

How can you develop empathy at work?

  • Give your full attention by using active listening. Listen for the emotions and be prepared for the person to change direction at any time.
  • Look at things from the other person’s perspective.
  • Perform a random act of kindness. This is something that benefits someone else or meets needs. It is not about you.
  • Listen and ask questions. Be genuinely curious about individual’s life and interests without being intrusive. This makes it easier to see another’s point of view on things.

Make a connection with people. Strive to know what they feel; feel what they feel; and then do something about the way they feel. By practicing these gestures, you help create a workplace that is empathetic, which in turn fosters a sense of trust, compassion, and a sense belonging. Be sure to watch Empathy Starts with You.