Tim Cook warned graduates at MIT, “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career.  Don’t accept this false premise.” The Apple CEO is not the only one to recognize the importance of empathy at the workplace.

How does empathy affect the workplace? 

A 2020 study by Businessolver on Workplace Empathy found that nearly 82% of the CEOs agree that an empathetic workplace creates a positive impact on the business performance, motivates the team, and also increases productivity.

The ability to think from others’ perspectives helps to cut down judgments and therefore soften the differences between people. Through this, empathy promotes collaboration, reduces stress, and improves the morale of a team.

How can you develop your empathy quotient to better understand your team members and strengthen relationships? Here are three suggestions:

Pay attention to feelings

The first step is to observe your feelings and emotions. If your team receives a new project, you might feel excited and eager. How can you apply this knowledge to understand your team?

Express to your team members how excited you feel about the project and ask for their responses. Encourage them to speak frankly and empathize even with extreme views. Stick around to talk, but, don’t push them hard to open up about their feelings.

Tip: Speak to your colleagues, when possible, instead of using email, text, or other messaging services. This can help you sense people’s emotions, while the tone of what you say can convey your feelings and put them at ease. 

Develop a ‘growth’ mindset

Empathy is not a fixed or rigid skill, rather it can be learned, improved, and developed. It takes some patience and interest to listen to people and understand them, but more importantly, it takes a growth mindset. As Carol Dweck’s research on the ‘fixed and growth’ mindset shows, having a growth mindset helps to learn, and improve one’s capabilities.

If you want to nurture your empathy skills, you can seek coaching or training. But the most effective way is to get down in the field and work alongside your team to experience their routines, tasks, joys, and frustrations – in other words ‘live’ their experiences to know what they go through and why, which sets the foundation for empathy.

Try people analytics

While empathy involves being able to understand and relate to people’s emotions, you might not be able to personally speak to every team member daily and check on their feelings. This is where surveys turn handy. By sending out ‘happiness surveys,’ you can gather real-time feedback and understand the pulse of your team. You can then address any concerns or expectation gaps that the survey highlights to ensure team members feel that they are being heard and that their challenges are addressed.

This is particularly useful in challenging times such as now, when people are trying to adapt to the new normal brought in by COVID-19 – virtual workplaces with reduced physical interactions.

Empathy is a crucial component of emotional intelligence and a valued trait at the workplace. By honing your empathy skills, you strengthen your ability to be a better leader, mentor, manager, or peer group member – in other words, build stronger relationships with people no matter your role and set the foundation for success.

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