Years ago, people who applied for certain types of jobs were given an “empathy test.” These were designed to gauge a person’s ability to put themselves “in another person’s shoes” and see things from their point of view.
For example, an applicant for a teaching position was asked, “Is it important for your students to like you?” If the applicant answered, “No, it’s important that they respect me,” they received a big black mark. Why? Because respect is not even close to empathy. Empathy involves understanding; respect does not.
And so it is with all relationships, not just those in the classroom but in the business world, and, yes, in relationships between couples too.
So, just how do you show empathy? In the words of a famous poet, “let me count the ways.”
Showing Empathy in Your Professional Life
Adults spend the bulk of their waking hours on the job, whether that is in a physical office space or working from home. They interact with colleagues and those who are below them on the hierarchy of the corporate structure. These interactions, whether in person or digital, can either foster satisfaction and productivity or resentment and lowered motivation. If you are in a position to foster satisfaction and productivity, here are the things you should do to show empathy.
When someone presents an issue or problem to you, pay attention to what they say. Ask questions if you need to understand better. This will let you focus on that person’s feelings and perspective before you suggest solutions.
Always Ask Questions
Nothing tells a person you are interested in their point of view more than when you ask questions about their problem/issue, about how they are feeling, and about what they think would be a solution. While you may not be able to implement their solution, they at least know you “heard” and valued them.
Make an Offer to Help
There are both work-related and personal issues that impact people on the job. If a co-worker, team member, etc. comes to you with a problem, one of the best indications that you have empathy is an offer to help. Suppose a team member is really struggling with a project task and is overwhelmed. Can you take some of this off his plate to help out? Suppose you are a team supervisor, and one member of your team is having personal problems. Would some extra time off or a change in his workday schedule help? Do what you can to make this happen.
Honor Their Communication Styles/Skills
Growing up, you did not speak the same way to your grandmother as you did to your friends. You “changed gears” depending on whom you were talking to. That same technique is just as important today. You will use a different style and vocabulary when you speak to your boss than when you speak to one of your employees. Talking to people in their own “language” shows empathy.
Resolve Conflicts with Empathy
Two of your team members are in conflict. #1 is having a problem getting his tasks completed on time and this is impacting #2 in his ability to meet his deadlines. As an empathetic mediator, you give each of them the chance to explain why they are encountering problems. It’s important that you and they – all of you – hear everyone’s perspectives. Then they can begin to work together to find a solution.
Now, Let’s Translate All of This Over to Personal Relationships
All of the things that show empathy in the workplace can be shown in personal relationships too. Take these things to heart:
- Put yourself in their shoes – When they are facing struggles/challenges, it’s important that you actively listen to them and let them know you understand how they are feeling. This is just a normal part of communication when people love each other. Never dismiss what they are feeling with such statements as “It’ll be fine,” or “you’ll be okay.” Bad move.
- Ask Questions – You need to know everything about what they are facing and feeling. How can you provide help unless you really understand?
- Never judge them – their feelings are important and very real to them – honor and validate them with your words and actions.
- Relieve your partner’s “load” when you can. How about you do their laundry or pitch in on cleaning their space? These simple things speak volumes for your empathy.
- Be patient with them – Don’t push your partner to “get over it” or “just work harder.” This is selfish on your part. You want them to suppress their emotions and focus attention on you instead. Another bad move.
How Our Digital Age Impacts Shows of Empathy
Empathy shows up in many places, and today it can show up online. There are chat rooms where people can air their struggles and get empathetic ears. And these are important when people don’t feel they don’t have someone in-person. Men, for example, might see this site as helpful if they are looking for a relationship that brings empathy to the table. There’s a lot of opportunity to chat and find that partner who shows it.
Do You Have Empathy?
After reading this, you should know if you have the capacity to show empathy. If you worry that you may not be as empathetic as you’d like, do a little research beyond this article, and see how you can boost your skills.