The Superpower that is Empathy

…a child interrupting a video meeting

…an “officemate” loudly speaking on a call next to you

…being late to a call because your grocery run took 2 hours vs 20 min

…being distracted by concerns about the economy 

…feeling the heaviness of learning someone close to you fell ill

These scenarios (and many more) are a likely reality for you and your co-workers. If ever there was a time to truly show up for each other—conceptually speaking—it is now.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—to truly understand their position and perspective. This does not always come naturally, but the power empathy unlocks is significant. Specifically, the trust and connection that is formed through empathy can unlock motivation, commitment and productivity, benefiting individuals and businesses as a whole.

In unprecedented, anxiety-producing times it is easy to get wrapped up in our own stresses—how will we possibly get work done? educate our children? feed ourselves and our families? stay healthy? avoid cabin fever? And the list goes on. First, it is important to recognize that all of these feelings are real and to be expected. Second, we must acknowledge that everyone is experiencing these hard and uncertain times differently.  

The ability to show empathy, to put ourselves in the another’s shoes, can be learned. As we interact with our colleagues in this new, virtual reality, we have the opportunity to practice and grow our capacity for empathy.

Three Keys to Practicing Empathy at Work:

1. Listen actively, avoiding assumptions
  • Be fully present to really listen: as best as possible right now, create a quiet nook where you can concentrate (and signal to your new “office mates” that you need some space to focus). 
  • Don’t judge or interrupt: finding the right flow of conversation or time to jump in can be tricky on video calls. Write down your thoughts so you don’t lose them while someone else is talking. 
  • Assume best intent: again, we are all in this together. If a co-worker says, writes or does something that you don’t agree with, bring it up directly and reground on your shared objectives.
  • Pay attention to words, expressions, mannerisms and tones.
2. Put yourself in their shoes 
  • Try to imagine the unique set of circumstances of an individual team member
  • Ask, with a genuine interest and concern, about how others are doing.
  • Respond vs. react: take a moment to consider what might be driving someone else’s actions.
  • Reward and recognize empathetic leadership: reinforcing its importance will help further cultivate compassion.
3. Share your experience 
  • Lead by exampleif ever there was a time for vulnerability, it is now. Don’t shy away from sharing your own unique circumstances and struggles. 
  • Set the tone and precedent for your team to encourage others to share as well.
What empathy unlocks? 

The business case is there: a study from Harvard Business Review found that empathetic companies enjoy 20 percent higher performance. In addition to benefits for the bottom line, employees of empathetic companies feel the effects: 

  • Concerns and feelings are honored, fueling collaboration
  • Trust is established through an environment of true vulnerability
  • Productivity and engagement are enhanced as everyone feels part of a team—better understanding each other and feeling understood 
  • Pain points and needs are considered thoughtfully and are more likely to be acted upon (another bottom line benefit for empathetic organizations is customer loyalty: when you understand and action customer needs, you generate loyalty!)