How to build Empathy At Workplace?

Ritwik Shaw

3 mins

Your numbers have been down for the third quarter in a row. You have to pick up your numbers or I cannot guarantee what the future will look like.”

How inspired do you think the listener is to come to work the next day?

Let’s consider an alternative scenario -

“Your numbers have been down for the third quarter in a row. Are you okay? I’m worried about you. Is there any way I can help you?”

Sounds better?

That’s where empathy comes into the picture; a quintessential leadership tool and most often, overlooked.

Let’s consider the natural succession of any employee in a modern-day company. When you’re a junior, your ultimate goal is to be good at your job. And when you are, you get promoted and are now responsible for the people who are responsible for the work that you used to do. But nobody is teaching you how to do it and that’s the major reason we get managers and not leaders.

In simple words - Empathy is being concerned about the human being and not just their output. If you ask a successful CEO about his priorities, you would most often hear the statement - “ Keeping my customers satisfied”. But who is going to ensure that the people who keep your customers satisfied are satisfied?

The fast-paced modern-day business scenario is to blame but things are changing as companies and organizations discover striking correlations between empathy and employee productivity and loyalty. As per the findings of this report, 77% of employees would be willing to work more hours for a more empathetic workplace whereas 60%

would accept a slashed salary for the same.

Companies are struggling with empathy because it isn’t a tool that can be introduced throughout. Compassion drives Empathy and it starts at the lowest level of the hierarchy. Every individual in the organization needs to take the initiative to get closer to their co-workers and establish a sense of vulnerability at the workplace. One needs to make conscious efforts to invest emotionally in their coworkers’ lives. It can be emotionally and mentally draining but that’s the sacrifice leaders make while managers don’t.

One may think that empathy can be developed through compassion. However, as simple as it may seem, several aspects of empathy are often misunderstood.

Here are a few centerpieces of improving relationships with your coworkers:

Be a Patient Listener

If you feel that your boss does not make efforts to listen to you, you aren’t alone.

More than 30% of employees feel that their decisions don’t matter. Managers need to accept the fact that their juniors aren’t as skilled or experienced. Actively listening to

your coworkers builds a relationship of trust and creates an atmosphere where coworkers feel comfortable in venting out their problems. The source of their frustration can expose critical performance issues and help managers implement effective policies.

Remember, simply listening goes a long way…

Demonstrate Vulnerability

Misunderstood for exposing your weakness at the workplace, being vulnerable is not straightforward. You’ve probably had days where you dealt with something serious, like a family tragedy, a personal financial crisis, or even relationship issues. Or maybe it’s your annoying coworker or a series of red lights.

Whatever the issue may be, everyone struggles - but admitting you’re struggling at work? It’s unthinkable for most people. We have been raised in a culture where we are supposed to be at our best, and the thought of being exposed - flaws, insecurities, setbacks - is completely terrifying for most people. How are we supposed to learn when we are not even comfortable in owning our mistakes? How long do we muffle our silence to create a false illusion of perfectionism?

Managers are not expected to reach out to their juniors and invest in their issues. What they are expected is to create an environment in which their employees feel safe enough to raise their hand and say - “ I don’t know what I am doing. I need help”. That’s the culture modern businesses need to adapt to - one where collaboration fosters and managers are responsible for the people who are responsible for the customers.

Develop Mutual Trust

Trust is a key component of a collaborative workspace and a major driver behind feelings of empathy. Managers often talk about prevalent ‘trust issues’ with certain employees. On the other hand, the employees find it terrifying to ask for help in the fear of being judged.

If you create a work culture that doesn’t tolerate vulnerability, people will never ask for help and managers will have “trust issues”. One drives the other. Feelings of trust and reliability create a sense of independence. It relieves the burden of expectations and instills self-confidence. Highly efficient and successful teams possess characteristics of weak hierarchy, more collaboration, better engagement, and strong interpersonal connections.

Managers need to realize that if they are laser-tracing each of their employee’s work progress, they are micromanaging the team. It is essential to steer the team in the right direction and give them a slight nudge once in a while. Employees need to feel responsible and unfettered at work. And it all starts with - “ I am available for any kind of help you need but I trust you to do the job.” rather than “ Get the job done!”

Practice the Benefit of Doubt

Non-judgement is important at work-not judging others when they fail or don’t know something. The recruit whom you lectured for receiving a call during a meeting might have been tangled in a critical issue - his mother could have been sick or his son might have got hurt. You never know what another person is struggling with.

Instead of humiliating the recruit in public, talk to him after the meeting. Adapting to a workplace takes time and every manager should respect that. As per a leading survey of over 1000 leaders, asking for help was the #1 trust-building behavior. Employees should not be resisted by the fear of “getting your ass kicked” or looked down upon as incompetent. Excellence at work is a marathon, not a sprint. As a manager, you could be a graduate from the best business school but your employees might not. Practice empathy. Give them the benefit of doubt. Build. Support. Guide.

Break The Ice

According to a report, co-workers are the number one aspect of workplaces that drive employees to like their jobs. We can all agree that the regular chit-chat, fresh gossip, and never-ending rants about the boss bring people together. Amidst the constant pressure of work, we look forward to light moments like these to get through the day.

Positive and friendly workplace relationships make empathy much easier as you get to know your co-workers better on a personal level. Team building exercises cannot be emphasized enough. Take them seriously.

Managers should take efforts to hang out with their co-workers once in a while after work. Informal engagements open doors to budding relationships and a feeling of belonging that can be translated to trust and reliability at the workplace. Next time you think about crackin’ a cold one with the boys, do it.

In modern-day businesses, it is extremely convenient to suppress empathy while chasing profits or productivity. Around 40% of employees feel that they cannot connect to their team leaders and about 31% feel that the senior management prefers profits over employee relationships. Multiple industry leaders and senior executives have been riddled with questions such as - “ How do I bring out the best in my people?”. They are

your people, not a towel that you can wring out dry and expect greatness to ooze out. Perspectives need to evolve and start focusing on rather - “How can I create an environment where my employees are at their natural best?”

Empathy, like any other skill, requires patience. Keep listening and asking thoughtful questions. The more you engage with your team, the easier it is to be compassionate. Workers thrive in a workplace where their opinions are heard and respected. Once you’ve managed to create positive relationships, everyone is more likely to return the favor. So,

smile at the receptionist when you walk past them, wait for your employee if you see them running towards the lift, give away that extra compliment and withhold the condescending remark.

As Simon Sinek put it beautifully, I’d love to reiterate his thoughts -

“A real job of a leader is not being in charge, it is about taking care of

those in our charge.”

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