Empathy in the Workplace: Its Important and How To Show It

Updated December 30, 2022

An employee places a hand on the shoulder of a coworker.

One of the most valuable skills to have in the workplace is empathy. This can help you better relate to your coworkers and clients. Knowing how to be empathic can help you improve communication with others and create great relationships, making for a positive workplace.

In this article, we define empathy, explain why it's important and discuss how to show empathy in the workplace.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else's feelings and experiences. Being empathetic can allow you to understand someone else's perspective, strengthen your ability to connect with others and develop a better worldview. You may better understand that your actions impact other people, which can lead to more productive conversations, especially when interacting with people with different backgrounds and perspectives.

Related: Sympathy vs. Empathy: Key Differences and How To Use Them at Work

Why is empathy important in the workplace?

Each person has their own values, cultural understandings, backgrounds and perspectives that make them unique. You can use your ability to empathize and understand others when working on these types of teams. Here are other benefits to being empathetic at work:

Improves communication

When you practice empathy, you are better able to adapt your communication style to the person or group you are interacting with at that time. You can also adjust your tone of voice or body language to best fit the conversation. For example, you may communicate differently with your manager than you might when presenting in front of a large group.

Read more: How To Improve Communication Skills in the Workplace

Strengthens working relationships

You can become a better team member and collaborator when you use empathy. Try to understand your coworkers' backgrounds and perspectives to build rapport and promote trust. Consider using active listening and words of encouragement when coworkers share their ideas.

Read more: 8 Ways To Build Strong Relationships in the Workplace

Boosts creative thinking

When you use empathy in the workplace, you may also develop more creative solutions. As a team, your employer may ask you to consider your audience's perspective or the most important needs of your target customers.

Using empathy can help you and your team members consider how the customer may think and feel to identify strategies that may appeal to them the most. Similarly, understanding a product or service from the recipient's point of view can help you identify challenges or opportunities you hadn't thought of before and be more willing to experiment with new solutions.

Read more: FAQ: Why Is Creative Thinking So Important in the Workplace?

Increases sales and investment opportunities

Empathy in the workplace can help you better understand the motivation of your current and future stakeholders, such as clients, customers and investors. For example, investors may have differing motivations for choosing companies, so you can practice empathy by researching your potential investors. Discover their background to identify any similarities you may share. During your conversation, appeal to their knowledge and experience that likely impacts their decisions.

You can apply the same research tactics and discussion methods when securing contracts with new clients or updating old contracts with current clients. Research to discover what is important to them so you can appeal to their needs in your pitch. Identify potential challenges their company may experience that oyu can help resolve.

Related: How To Be a Better Salesperson in 10 Steps

Enhances customer service

Having empathy can improve your customer service skills because you can anticipate their wants and needs. When a customer calls about an issue, they may be frustrated and want you to listen to them. By letting them tell you all the details before responding, you can show them you value what they have to say. Clients and coworkers that feel valued are more likely to be open to your suggestions.

Impacts job interviews

While you can read the job listing before an interview to understand what the job entails, it's important to listen to the hiring manager during the interview. They may explain why they need to hire someone for the job and share what their expectations for the ideal candidate are. Using this information in your answers may show your understanding of the position's value, especially to this employer, and may help you better respond to show your skills.

For example, an interviewer may say how difficult it's been without having a receptionist for the past few months. You could begin your answer by saying you understand the need for someone to answer phone calls and greet visitors to validate their feelings. Continue your answer by describing your experience completing those tasks and the effectiveness with which you did.

Read more: 30 Empathy-Related Interview Questions (Plus Sample Answers)

How to be more empathetic

There are several ways you can improve your empathetic skills in the workplace. Use these steps to develop your empathy at work:

1. Actively listen

Practice empathy through active listening. Listen attentively to the person you're communicating with to better understand their question or request before thinking of a response. This strategy enables you to focus only on the other person's needs and as result, fully understand their feelings and perspective.

Read more: 11 Active Listening Skills To Practice (With Examples)

2. Personalize your communication

When you're aware of your specific audience, you can start to consider how to best communicate with them, such as changing the words you use based on the expertise of your client or colleague. For example, you may use more industry terms when talking with a coworker, but use simpler, more universal words when pitching to a client. If you're able to, you may even communicate in a different language when interacting with coworkers or customers whose native language differs from yours.

Related: The Components of Effective Workplace Communication

3. Offer to help

Empathy can also help you understand and address your coworkers' challenges, such as an increased workload or a personal matter. Demonstrate empathy by offering to help in any way you can. This gesture can show your team members that you are dedicated to ensuring the team's success and will assist them to reach team goals.

4. Consider a different perspective

If your team encounters interpersonal conflict, use the discussions productively, and try to see the situation from other points of view. Once you understand their feelings, you may be able to better respond. If you have any confusion over their issues on a topic, ask clarifying questions to better relate to each other.

Read more: Empathy Mapping: A Practical Guide to Understanding Users

5. Ask questions

Empathy emphasizes understanding a different perspective and may not be as easy as trying to imagine what another person is feeling. Asking your coworker or client various questions about their needs, feelings and perspectives can help you better understand how to help them.

For example, if a customer asks you to find a specific product your company no longer offers, you may ask how they use the item. This information can help you better understand their position and think of other products that can meet their specific needs.

6. Validate their feelings

Even if you don't entirely understand and agree with someone else's perspective, you can practice empathy by ensuring that they know you think their feelings are important. Listen carefully to your coworker or client, then explain that you understand why this is a problem and that you are ready to assist. You practice empathy by acknowledging what they are experiencing, which can have a positive impact on the conversation.

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