6 Ways to Show Empathy at Work

Empathy at workLet’s be clear. Empathy is not just a soft skill, it is a lifestyle. Being empathetic implies that you have the capability to feel for others. And you cannot switch in and out of your empathetic mode. You also can’t just decide to have empathy from like today. It’s not like a country club membership. It is an inherent quality and your empathy can only grow from your experiences and with time. But much like humanity, it is there in varying measures in most people.

It just needs a good old dusting off, once in a while, to remind us how essential it is for our happy existence.

And while we could go off on a tangent and talk about its significance in the bigger picture of mankind, we will limit ourselves to the narrow realm of work. Think of work, here, as a microcosm of society, replicating many of the broader emotions that help us survive in the world. (Read List of key skills for Managers and Employees)

So here is a quick dust off of the skills that help us show off our empathetic sides at work.
 

Why do employees need to show empathy?

‘Coz it’s a two way street. Empathy breeds trust and engagement. It is reassuring to know that the place you call office and spend the better half of everyday, cares about you. It is a cascading effect really. Empathy yields engagement, engagement leads to productivity, productivity translates to rewards, rewards to loyalty, and loyalty brings trust and empathy. Merry go round and round!

If you don’t trust lip service, and you shouldn’t, try these numbers for proof. A study, designed to measure effects of employee engagement, in business, by Queen’s Centre for Business Venturing (QCBV) and Aon Hewitt, has shown the following numbers that reassure our faith in humanity. The study spanned a period of ten years and more than 111,000 employees, in businesses employing 50 to 399 employees. Employee engagement brings about,

  • 65% greater share-price increase
  • 26% less employee turnover
  • 100% more unsolicited employment applications
  • 20% less absenteeism
  • 15% greater employee productivity
  • up to 30% greater customer satisfaction levels

All that from just being nice!
 

Skills to develop and show empathy at work

 

Patience is always a virtue

The corporate world is highly competitive and cut throat. You can smell the elevated stress levels from miles away (Read How stress can affect you). Money and time are consumed faster than oxygen (Read Time Management Skills). So it is quite natural to lose patience with your coworkers who don’t follow your tightly planned schedule. And if you are one of those who snaps and taps his foot feverishly while the somewhat slower peer works on the report you have been waiting on, then you too are of the impatient kind. Why should that be viewed as a character flaw? After all you are only trying to speed up your job! Well, wrong. Impatience is viewed as an impediment in career growth. While a healthy amount of drive is good, impatience shows the possibility of lack of impulse control. And that is not a quality to encourage in an organization where judgements and decisions need to be sound.

How about trying this if you start feeling a tug at that patience string. Take a deep breath and send a gentle reminder for that report. Just one. Wait a suitable time for a response and then send a second one. And if you see that the situation is getting out of hand, walk up and ask if they need any help. Chances are, they are stuck on something they can’t seem to get past. And if you see, instead, a total callous disregard for your time, then do any of the following you see fit.

  • Explain your concerns, calmly.
  • If that doesn’t stir a nerve, consider someone else for this task. Make a mental note to never ever involve him again.
  • Escalate if this has turned out to be a pattern and harming your job.

Instead of someone who lacks self control, you will come off as a steady, calm and a decisive doer who doesn’t get phased by incompetence.
 

Consider your coworker’s views

A variety of ideas and opinions are a part, in fact the life, of any healthy growing organization. It brings about a combination of different perspectives to the table. Like it or not, it is the exchange of ideas which leads to innovation and development. So, if you don’t internalize the significance of considering a viewpoint, different from yours, you will be forever cursed with a closed mind.

Considering doesn’t mean you have to agree!

It is possible you discover a caveat in your opinion you hadn’t thought of before. It is also possible that you hate or even feel this immense urge to mock the idea. But hey! This is not high school. You are an adult! You have earned the right to behave like one.

Listen, talk and discuss. Trust yourself and your coworkers to be able to see the light at the end of the conference room table.
 

Listen

Yeah, this is becoming a lost art. Try to remember the last time you ever felt a connection with someone who doesn’t have time for you. And while you are busy scratching your head for a response, here’s one to help you out. Communication is a key skill to build on any relationship. Even the one with your coworkers. It helps you understand the other. Sometimes all it needs is for you to take notice. Why does he seem so quiet today? Maybe I should just ask if he is okay.

Just basic human decency which goes a long way in cultivating your empathy towards others.
 

Be considerate

Do unto others as…

Imagine the season of employee reviews. The time when employees are called into a room for a pat on the back or a smack on the head. It would be highly inconsiderate of you if you happen to be rejoicing your raise while Bob, the nice man in the next cubicle, has been told that he is walking a thin rope. Not all situations need to be this polarized, but you get the idea. It is essential to be considerate of another’s feelings. Yes, we understand that the competitive environment of corporations demand a celebration of success. But there are many tasteful ways of doing so, all in the realm empathy.
 

Be supportive

Your positive attitude will be appreciated. Like when Bob is let down by his annual review, you can step in to boost his moral. It may not reverse the situation, but will at least let him know that he has some support to help him out through tough times. After all that’s exactly what you would have wanted if some tragedy had befallen you. Your supportive nature will not be in vain. It is one of the key skills of a team player and will only get you closer to the rest. (Read Qualities of a Team Player)
 

Be flexible

Work well with others. That’s the general motto. Be flexible with your thoughts as well as your actions. Flexibility in thought begs an open mind. In practice, it lets you, say, fill in for Jack while he attends his 5 year old’s first piano recital. In time Jack may help you out with the 33 page report your manager wants in two days.

These are not skills to enlist you for sainthood. These are just some tips to remind you that being nice has its value even at work. It is impossible to be completely emotionally detached from a place you spend over 60 hrs a week. Even Frankestein’s Monster had a softer side. It is not hard to imagine how and why a soft skill like empathy can play a positive role in making your job easier. It is nice to be nice to the deserving ones.

And as for the undeserving ones, we leave it for you to decide their fate.

How about stealing their lunch? or maybe jamming one of the wheels on their chair should be enough…

Don’t tell anyone we told you so!

Source: 1, 2, 3


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Rakhi Acharyya //
Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

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