What’s Empathy Got to Do with It?

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How does one practice empathy in the workplace? Does it really shift culture? Do you feel that you have a responsibility and duty to be empathetic to your colleagues? Or is empathy showing too much heart on the job, and not enough focus on the tasks at hand?

In the Great Place to Work article “A Dose of Empathy” by Lillian J. LeBlanc, LeBlanc states that great worklaces focus “….at the heart of the leadership team. Great workplaces are shaped by great leaders and these organizations encourage traits such as empathy in their management ranks. Empathetic leaders take time to learn about, know and understand those they lead.” Moreover, LeBlanc states argues that leaders that meaningfully connect and foster understanding will in turn create an environment of trust within the organization.

Check out this short 3 minute video, with a voiceover from Brene Brown on the importance of empathy and how to practice it. How can you take some of the concepts mentioned and provide empathy for your staff and colleagues? How can doing so shift the sense of trust and community within your team?

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) wanted to discover if empathy was needed in order for a leader to be successful within their job. CCL surveyed 6,731 leaders from 38 countries and had at least 3 direct reports rate them on how much they displayed empathetic emotion. These direct reports rated their leader on four items:

  • Is sensitive to signs of overwork in others.
  • Shows interest in the needs, hopes, and dreams of other people.
  • Is willing to help an employee with personal problems.
  • Conveys compassion toward them when other people disclose a personal loss.

Each leader also had one boss rate their job performance. CCL’s results reveal that empathy is positively related to job performance. Likewise, the managers’ bosses viewed those who show more empathy as performing better in their jobs.

The Direct Impact of Empathy on Staff

Some GO BIG members shared how a leader has positively impacted their own engagement and performance:

  • “My supervisor has taken the time to generously listen to me about any concerns or issues I had, even if not work related. I’m grateful to know that she supports me and is always available when I need her.” 
  • “My boss is one of the most empathetic people I know. At the end of the day, I know he cares about me as a person and tries to understand where I come from, even we disagree. I trust that I can be vulnerable, without him casting any judgement.”
  • “When they ask how I’m doing, they really mean it. They are also willing to help if I’m in a difficult situation.”
  • “I had to plan a huge division-wide event. It was my first day on the job and I knew NOTHING. All of the leaders involved showed me so much patience and empathy, and listening to my ideas.”
  • “My boss deeply listens to me for understanding versus looking to criticize. I trust her and share information with freedom.”

Authentically Demonstrating Empathy

Here are 3 tips that you can start today that will help you continue to build on your empathy skills:

  1. Be curious about your staff and colleagues. Empathy helps encourage folks to share ideas and parts of themselves freely without the fear of criticism or ridicule.
  2. Get out of your own chair. Truly consider the personal experience of where a staff member may be coming from. Jayson M. Boyers asks the question, “How can you walk in someone else’s shoes if you never get out of your chair?”
  3. Remove your “mask.” Empathy is a two-way street and is cultivated through vulnerability. A leader does not know all of the answers, and sharing your own vulnerability can allow your colleagues to see you beyond your managerial or supervisory mask.

Learn more about the importance of empathy: