How To Be Empathetic in the Workplace in 7 Steps

Updated October 10, 2022

Empathy is an important skill for your personal and professional life. When you're empathetic toward business colleagues and supervisors, you may find it's easier to communicate and resolve issues. If you're interested in improving your relationships and professional reputation, learning about empathy is a great way to do so.

In this article, we explain what empathy is, share how to be empathetic, discuss why it's important in the workplace and provide examples of empathy in action.

An infographic of an empathy map
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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. This could include experiencing feelings you might have in another person's situation. For example, if your coworker recently experiences a loss, you may imagine what that would feel like and respond in a way that's sensitive to what they may be experiencing.

Empathy is more than a character trait, it's a teachable skill. While it's true that some people are naturally empathetic, it's also possible to become more empathetic through practice. Empathy relates closely to emotional intelligence. The more you understand another person's emotions, the better you can respond to them.

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

How to be empathetic in the workplace

Here are seven steps that can help you show empathy in the workplace:

1. Approach challenges from a different perspective

Imagine the problem or situation from your team member's perspective. This can help you better understand their propositions and point of view. Even if you reach a different conclusion from them, you may have a better understanding of their thought process, which can inform future discussions.

Related: How To Overcome Challenges in the Workplace (With Tips)

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 feel. For example, if you're speaking with a buyer who's unhappy with a product, you can ask about their expectations of the product and the specifics of their experience. If you don't understand the situation, keep asking questions until you do. Empathy comes with a deeper understanding of what has happened.

Read more: Relationship-Building Skills: Definitions and Examples

3. Validate how the other person is feeling

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

Related: Workplace FAQ: What It Means To Be an Empathetic Leader

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're facing.

This may be particularly useful in customer service. For example, you can ask the customer if they might prefer a new product or a refund. You may empathize more successfully when you can see the individual's goal and understand what they're working toward.

Related: What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definitions and Examples

5. Develop your listening skills

Asking questions and practicing non-verbal encouragement, such as eye contact, can be helpful in letting people know you're listening. When a coworker discusses an unfamiliar experience, ask how that made them feel.

Though you may not have this experience yourself, your understanding of your coworker's experience can help you've greater empathy for others who find themselves facing similar situations in the future.

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

6. Offer to help

Ask colleagues if they need help with projects and offer assistance when possible. This can help team members feel like you support them and empathize with their challenges at work. It may sometimes be challenging to determine when a coworker is struggling, so part of empathy is observing your environment and taking the initiative to offer help before someone asks.

Read more: 9 Ways To Help and Support Colleagues at Work

7. Challenge your biases

While it's natural to gravitate toward people who are similar to you, you may learn more when you begin conversations with coworkers outside your inner circle. Talking to colleagues with whom you don't normally interact can help you learn different perspectives. You may also discover new approaches to problem-solving or discover a useful new way of thinking.

Related: Types of Decision-Making Biases (And How To Recognize Bias)

Importance of empathy in the workplace

Empathy is a desirable skill that many employers look for among potential team members. Empathy is important in the workplace because it:

  • 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 can improve your social skills, which is an essential key to success in every industry.

  • Makes you a great team player: Empathy can help you function 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've strong communication skills.

Read more: Why Empathy in the Workplace Is Important

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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 after-school 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.

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