Practising empathy in the workplace may seem counterintuitive. After all, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes can conflict with our personal goal of climbing the corporate ladder.
However, being task-oriented to the point of neglecting how our actions affect our colleagues, can backfire.
Instead, if we step into our colleagues’ shoes, we may see an inconvenient situation in a new light. It could explain why they missed a deadline or forgot to reply to an email, for example, instead of us assuming the worst. As a result, it could help us build better relationships with the people we spend most of our waking hours with.
Another upside of practising empathy is preventing misunderstandings from spiralling out of control. An abrupt message or a raised voice are opportunities for us to question if we should be retaliating in the same vein, or checking in on the offender to find out what’s troubling them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives significantly causing pandemic fatigue to set in. In this challenging climate, getting our empathy game on is more important than ever. We can all benefit from a little more understanding, so here are four ways you can practise developing your empathy.
1. Make the effort to ask “how are you”
We all have different responsibilities in life — as an employee, a child, a sibling and more. For all we know, our colleague may be grappling with some of these responsibilities in addition to work.
Spending time to check in with our colleagues provides us with valuable information as to how we should be responding when something untoward or inconvenient happens.
2. Avoid jumping to conclusions
A colleague is late for an important virtual meeting. Or requests to take urgent leave even though it is the company’s peak period. Or asks us to take on some of their tasks.
During such instances, we may be tempted to conclude that our colleague is slacking. It’s a good idea to resist that temptation. Instead, we could consider clarifying with them — ask them what happened, and offer to help if necessary.
It will help them see us as compassionate and understanding. It could also make them more likely to be grateful, and reciprocate the act, creating a virtuous cycle that benefits everyone in the workplace.
3. Respect their personal time
Working from home has blurred the boundaries of work and personal life. Unfortunately, this can have negative implications on our mental well-being.
To make things better for our colleagues, we could take inspiration from enterprise software company Software AG’s example. The company, which has 50 employees in Singapore, has made attempts to ensure that their staff are not overworked, encouraging them to log off at 6 pm to avoid work emails after hours.
Similarly, we can take the step to not bother our colleagues with work emails and texts when they are on leave so they have time to recharge.
4. Practise active listening
Active listening means listening without judgement, paying attention to the speaker’s verbal and non-verbal cues, and paraphrasing based on our understanding. A good time to practise this is when our colleagues confide in us. Take the opportunity to ask questions to understand and validate their feelings by using phrases like “I understand how this is tough for you” or “It is inevitable that you feel sad after this occurred” so they feel heard.
As with acquiring any skills, empathy requires practice. Your co-workers will feel the difference and appreciate your efforts too. Little gestures contribute to making the work culture more compassionate.