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Empathy in the Workplace - Main

Showing empathy in the workplace is one of the most important aspects for leading teams. Leaders and managers who show a lack of empathy can cause stress and conflict, because they don’t seek to understand how others feel.

Given that one of the most common reasons people leave their jobs is because of their bosses, it makes sense that a lack of empathy in the workplace may be behind many of these resignations.

What Is Empathy, and Why Does it Matter For Leaders?

Empathy is about being able to put yourself in the shoes of the people around you and the people you lead. It means attempting to understand how another person is feeling.

This awareness enables you to treat people in a way that is going to bring out their best. It also allows you to understand key concerns in the team, and adjust your approach when you need to.

Empathy means realising that leadership is not all about you.

You might want that report done or that project finished, but if you don’t go about things the right way by considering how your team feels, you may struggle to achieve your goals.

Empathy in the Workplace Allows You to Adapt Your Approach

Leaders can run into trouble when they expect the attitudes and goals of their team members to match their own. So it’s important to stop every once in a while and ask yourself a few questions. The questions I like to ask are:

Empathy in the Workplace - Questions

After all, the performance of your team is a function of the attitudes of your team members.

I’ve seen leaders who say “This is a great opportunity for them, they should be grateful for it.” What they fail to realise is that their team member doesn’t necessarily have the same goals and aspirations as they do. What is great for you or I may not have any value to somebody else.

When a leader lacks empathy, they lose the ability to adapt their approach because they can’t see further than their own point of view.

Being able to adapt means you can make better judgement calls and tailor your approach to suit your team and environment.

Tip: To learn more about adapting your leadership style to get the best results, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Adaptive Leadership eBook, for tools and techniques to tailor your style to suit the situation. Your team deserves the best, so get the eBook today.

How You Can Build Empathy

1. Build Empathy In the Workplace By Experiencing a Day In the Life of Your Team

Empathy in the Workplace - Day in the LifeSometimes it’s easy for leaders to stay “above” their teams. In fact, often a manager’s focus needs to be forward looking and strategic, rather than focusing on the day to day grind.

Unfortunately, this sometimes means you remain disconnected from what happens in your team. To counter this, spend time with your team and step through their work with them.

Find out what challenges they have and what the roadblocks are. You will start to gain an understanding of their frustrations and motivations.

2. Build Empathy In the Workplace By Creating Open Communication

Open communication is critical for building empathy. When you team freely communicates issues, successes and challenges with you, you are better placed to understand their situation.

Ideally, you want your people speaking up, rather than staying silent. Often “no news is good news” is a bad way to approach your team, because frustration is often hiding beneath the surface.

To learn how to create open communication in your team, read this post: 5 Powerful Ways to Create Open Communication in Your Team.

3. Build Empathy In the Workplace By Getting Out of Your Normal Environment

Sometimes as leaders, we get stuck in our day to day. But the only way we can really gain awareness of what’s happening outside of our space is to get out there and see it.

Spend time visiting other teams and leaders in your workplace. If your organisation has remote locations that you hardly visit, see if you can get out there and see what challenges they are facing.

Often spending time outside of your normal environment can open your eyes and help you see what others see.

4. Build Empathy In the Workplace By Challenging Your Biases

We all have biases. Some of them are conscious biases, because we know we have them. Others are unconscious – we react automatically, without thinking.

Biases are built from our upbringing and experience. We can never eliminate them, so the next best thing is to be aware of them, so we can ensure they don’t affect our decision making. This means we can avoid situations like the one below…

Empathy in the Workplace - unconscious-bias-cartoon


Challenging your biases involves constant questioning of your perception of others with regard to aspects like race, gender, appearance, qualifications and age.

Our biases interfere with our ability to empathise.

For example, you know Bob never went to college, but you graduated from Harvard. You may have a bias that respects qualifications, so you might just ignore what Bob is feeling and dismiss his opinion.

When you aren’t aware of this bias, you run the risk of alienating Bob. But when you are aware that you think and feel this way, you can purposefully act to counter the bias by paying more attention and really listening to Bob when he speaks.

When has empathy helped you in the workplace? Or have you seen a situation where empathy was lacking? Tell your stories in the comments below!

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