How To Be Empathetic in the Workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 13, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated August 13, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

Empathy is an important skill for your personal and professional life. When you’re empathetic toward business colleagues and supervisors, you’ll find it’s easier to communicate and resolve issues. In this article, we explain what empathy is, why it's important and how to be more empathetic.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to consider and understand the perspective of someone else. When you exhibit empathy, you imagine what it would be like to experience their situation and the feelings you might have.

For example, if your coworker recently experienced a loss, you might feel sadness for their situation. You aren’t experiencing the level of grief that they are, but you’re able to imagine what that grief would feel like and respond in a way that’s sensitive to what they may be experiencing.

Related: Sympathy vs. Empathy: Definition and Importance in the Workplace

Can a person learn empathy?

Empathy isn’t just a character trait; it’s also a teachable skill. While it’s true that some people are naturally empathetic, this doesn’t mean that you can’t acquire the skill. Empathy is closely related to emotional intelligence. The more you understand another person’s emotions, the better you can respond to them.

Read more: Relationship-Building Skills: Definitions and Examples)

The importance of empathy in the workplace

Empathy is a desirable skill that many employers look for among potential employees.
Here are some reasons why empathy is important in the workplace:

Creates connections: Empathy can help you connect with coworkers by focusing on the issues that are affecting them.

Improves social skills: Maintaining positive working relationships with coworkers and clients will improve your social skills, which is an essential key to success in every industry.

Makes you a great team player: Empathy is a required skill in order to work well as a member of a team. By placing value on other people’s points of view, your team can quickly problem-solve any challenges and might even improve upon existing processes to become more productive.

Improves your resume: Adding empathy as a skill on your resume can show potential employers that you appreciate the value of this skill and that you have strong communication skills.

Related: 6 Ways That Empathy Improves the Workplace

What are some examples of empathy in the workplace?

The opportunity for empathy can present itself many times throughout a typical workday.

For example:

  • A retail employee might empathize with a customer who bought a necklace that broke the first time they wore it.

  • A teacher might empathize with a student who has trouble prioritizing homework with an afterschool activity.

  • A human resources manager might empathize with a potential candidate who needs to reschedule an interview at the last minute due to a family emergency.

How to be empathetic in the workplace

Here are some ways to show empathy in the workplace:

1. Approach problems from a different perspective

Imagine the problem or situation from your team member’s perspective. Even if you don’t reach the same conclusion they did, you’ll have a better understanding of their thought process, which can inform future discussions.

2. Ask questions to understand

Ask what experiences have led to a particular conclusion. Consider the potential underlying factors that caused the person to feel the way they do. If you’re speaking with a buyer who is unhappy with a product, for example, ask about their expectations of the product and the specifics of their negative experience. If you don’t understand the situation, keep asking questions until you do. Empathy comes with a deeper understanding of what has happened.

3. Validate how the other person is feeling

In your interactions, repeat the concerns of the person you are dealing with so they know you understand. For example, if you’re working with an unsatisfied customer, tell them you know it is a frustrating experience. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that this is an appropriate way to feel.

4. Determine the preferred resolution

Taking the time to understand someone’s desired goal is a great way to show empathy. Ask questions and practice active listening when someone is trying to communicate a challenge they are facing. This is particularly useful in customer service. Would the customer prefer a new product or a refund? Is the ultimate goal to get the software to work or to find a different product entirely? You can empathize better when you can see the individual’s goal and understand what they’re working toward.

5. Develop your listening skills

Asking questions and practicing non-verbal encouragement, such as eye contact, are helpful in letting people know that you are listening to them. When a coworker discusses an experience that you’re not familiar with, ask how that made them feel. Though you may not have this experience yourself, your understanding of your coworker’s experience will help you have greater empathy for others who find themselves facing similar situations in the future.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

6. Offer to help

Ask colleagues if they need help with a difficult project and offer assistance when you can. It isn’t always obvious when a coworker is struggling, so part of empathy is observing your environment and taking the initiative to offer help before you’re asked.

7. Challenge your biases

It’s natural to gravitate toward people who are similar to you, but you’ll learn more when you begin conversations with coworkers outside your inner circle. Talking with colleagues you don’t normally interact with can help you learn different perspectives since you’ll be communicating with people who don’t necessarily share your same problem-solving approaches.

Related: 9 Decision-Making Biases To Recognize and Address

Explore more articles