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How to Develop Workplace Empathy

Developing Workplace Empathy to Improve Relationships

Recently, I have been reflecting on the importance of workplace empathy in the work environment. The impact empathy can have on job performance and personal satisfaction is often underestimated. In my experience, it is a critical element in creating a harmonious and productive work environment.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the emotional experience of another person. Studies have shown that the human brain contains special neurons called ‘mirror neurons’. We activate these neurons both when we perform an action and when we observe another person performing that same action. These neurons are believed to play an important role in understanding emotions and the ability to empathize.
When we observe someone experiencing an emotion, such as sadness or pain, we activate our mirror neurons. This allow us to experience that emotion in a similar way to how the person we are observing is experiencing it. In this way mirror neurons allow us to feel another person’s pain or joy and empathize with them.
Workplace empathy is a competency. Is about understanding and feeling from our perspective what our colleagues are experiencing. It’s about putting ourselves in their shoes and seeing things from their point of view. But, sometimes it is difficult to apply work empathy because it requires dedication, effort and perseverance.

desarrollar empatía laboral


Cultivating Workplace Empathy

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to cultivate empathy in the workplace is through practicing active listening. Instead of hearing our conversation partner, it’s important to give them our full attention and listen to their concerns and problems. By doing this, we show respect for their feelings and their situation. It’s also important to remember that empathy is not only about understanding how someone else feels, but also being willing to help. When we offer to help, we show that we care about their well-being and are willing to make an extra effort to help them succeed.
In South Africa, people use the greeting “Sawabona,” which means: “I respect you, I value you, you are important to me.” The response is “Shikoba,” which means: “Then, I exist for you.” It’s like in the movie Avatar when they say “I see you.” This establishes trust, strengthens relationships, and improves the work climate.
Sometimes, empathy can be a challenge when there are misunderstandings between colleagues. One way to improve our communication and empathy is through feedback. It’s always important to face problems head-on and learn from them to improve in the future. Feedback also helps us identify our strengths and weaknesses in performance. This allows us to develop our skills and improve them. Empathy is a key competence that can help us in our professional careers. It creates better interpersonal and productive relationships.
Empathy in the workplace is essential for building strong relationships between colleagues and achieving a positive work environment. In my experience, when we practice workplace empathy, we not only improve the quality of our work relationships, but also improve our own well-being. At the end of the day, workplace empathy can make a big difference in our work and personal experiences.
As humans, our ability for empathy is one of the most valuable skills we own. It allows us to connect with others, understand their feelings and needs, and help them in times of need. But, when it comes to workplace empathy, its importance is often overlooked.

What are the benefits of empathy?

Empathy is especially important in a competitive work environment where tensions are high. With the help of empathy, we can develop and strengthen closer and more productive relationships in the workplace, which can lead to a more harmonious and positive team dynamic.
So, how can we cultivate workplace empathy? One of the best ways is through practicing active listening. This means being present in a conversation and giving our full attention to the conversation partner. We must set aside our opinions and judgments to focus on the words and emotions of the other person. By doing so, we show our colleague that we care about their feelings and their situation, and that we are willing to help in any way possible.
Another way to foster workplace empathy is by practicing empathy exercises. It can be helpful to think of a hypothetical situation in which our colleague is facing a problem and try to put ourselves in their shoes. By doing so, we can better understand the situation and act to support our colleague. It’s important to note that empathy is not about understanding how someone else feels, but also being willing to help using assertive language. If a colleague is struggling with a task, we can offer our help in any way possible to show our commitment to their success and well-being.

desarrollar empatía laboral


Developing Empathy by Improving our Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence can help us develop workplace empathy. Empathy allows us to connect with others emotionally, understand their needs and feelings, and respond to them effectively. By improving our emotional intelligence, we can learn to recognize and manage our own emotions, which allows us to be more capable of recognizing the emotions of others. Additionally, emotional intelligence also provides us with tools for conflict resolution, teamwork, motivation, and effective leadership. In summary, emotional intelligence can be a valuable tool for improving empathy in the workplace and enhancing our work relationships.

Workplace empathy goes beyond words. It also involves our actions and behaviors. We must be aware of our body language and our way of communicating with others. For example, if we speak brusquely or ignore our colleagues’ feelings, we are directly undermining our ability to build positive relationships. On the other hand, if we are warm, empathetic, and respectful, we are creating a more positive and productive work environment.

Workplace empathy can also contribute to conflict resolution. Often, misunderstandings in the workplace are the result of a lack of empathy and understanding of others. By practicing workplace empathy, we can improve our ability to identify the motives behind a conflict and understand the needs of both sides. In this way, we can work together to find an effective and mutually beneficial solution.

We must remember that workplace empathy is a skill that can be improved with constant practice. It’s not enough to be empathetic at a specific moment. It should be a skill that we cultivate and exercise regularly, even in difficult and uncomfortable situations. By doing so, we can develop more meaningful and lasting work relationships and enjoy a more positive work environment.

In summary, workplace empathy is a critical skill in the modern work environment. We can cultivate workplace empathy through active listening, practicing empathy exercises, respectful communication, and being aware of our actions and behaviors. It can also aid in conflict resolution and contribute to more lasting and meaningful work relationships.

Would you like me to help you develop empathy in your teams with a special approach?

Schedule a video call, send me a WhatsApp message or email me.