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Top 7 What’s And How’s For A More Empathetic Workplace

Alena is an inclusive leadership enthusiast, passionate about people and cultures. Her mission is to help individuals and organisations reach their full potential by developing the ability to better relate to and work together with people who think and behave differently.

 
Executive Contributor Alena Ipanova

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a crucial trait in any workplace. It not only positively impacts teamwork and collaboration but also cultivates a supportive and inclusive environment where individuals feel valued and understood. 


Alena smiling at camera holding a book

In today's fast-paced and often competitive work environments, it's easy to prioritize productivity over empathy. However, research consistently demonstrates that organizations that prioritize empathy experience higher levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall performance. A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy positively correlates with job performance and is a key driver of effective leadership.

 

We do hear a lot about the importance of empathy in leadership, but what exactly does empathy mean to you? Have you ever reflected on how your behavior and communication style contribute to your relationships and interactions with others?

 

Discussing empathy and its impact on leaders and teams I noticed that it’s usually hard to point out empathetic behavior when it’s present. People feel generally good, being listened to, heard, and understood, which creates an invisible flow of trust and acceptance. And like the air we breathe, it often stays unnoticed. Conversely, its absence is keenly felt, manifesting as a lack of emotional acknowledgment and understanding. 

 

Brené Brown, a research professor and author known for her work on vulnerability and courage, emphasizes the significance of empathy in creating genuine connections. She asserts, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It's simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You're not alone’.”

 

This quote resonates deeply with me. It signifies that there isn't a singular "correct method" for empathy. Each individual may have a different starting point in this journey, and each person may need to navigate different paths toward a more empathetic way of living and working with others. At the same time, this quote raises a pertinent question for the individuals and teams I work with - “How exactly can we develop, signal, and express empathy when interacting with others?”


Here are 7 practical ways and examples for you to reflect on and start intentionally working on to bring more empathy to your life, your workplace and your daily interactions.


1. Develop active listening


Active listening is the art of being present, understanding, responding, and holding the space for others. It involves more than just hearing. It requires genuine interest and engagement in the speaker's perspective. Active listening contributes to trust development, open communication, and stronger relationships.

 

These are some practical things you can do to develop your active listening ability:

 

  • Practice attentive listening without interrupting

  • Ask open-ended questions. For instance, instead of asking a yes/no question like, "Are you okay?" try asking, "How are you feeling about the situation?" This demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding others’ perspectives.

  • Validate emotions – acknowledge the emotions expressed by another person without judgment. For example, you could say, "It's understandable that you feel anxious about the upcoming presentation.”


Create a good physical space for interaction when talking face-to-face. I noticed that sitting on the same side, rather than across from the one you talk to, contributes to a more relaxed conversation and better connectivity. For more practical guidance, check out this video where I describe 3 levels of listening and how you can practically use them in your interaction with others. 

 

2. Promote perspective-taking


Perspective-taking involves stepping into someone else's shoes to understand their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It contributes to empathy, reduces conflicts, and promotes inclusivity by appreciating diverse points of view and ideas.

 

Some things you can do to evolve in this area are:

 

  • Encourage role-playing exercises. Engage in scenarios where individuals assume different perspectives to understand varying viewpoints.

  • Foster diversity in decision-making. Involve individuals from diverse backgrounds and with various experiences in discussions and decision-making processes to promote empathy towards different perspectives.

  • Practice active imagination. Encourage individuals to imagine themselves in someone else's shoes to gain insight into their experiences and emotions.

 

3. Lead by example


Leadership by example entails demonstrating empathy through actions, words, and behaviors. It sets the tone for organizational culture, inspires others, and contributes to a sense of belonging and trust. Some practical steps you can consider here are:

 

  • Demonstrate vulnerability. Share personal experiences and challenges to create an environment where others feel comfortable expressing themselves. 

  • Show empathy in decision-making. Consider the impact of decisions on individuals and express empathy towards their concerns and perspectives.

  • Offer support and encouragement. Provide assistance and encouragement to colleagues facing challenges or setbacks, demonstrating empathy and solidarity.

 

4. Create psychological safety


Psychological safety refers to an environment where individuals feel safe to take risks, express themselves, and share their ideas without fear of negative consequences. It fosters innovation, creativity, and collaboration.

 

Some things you could do to work on this area are: 

 

  • Encourage open communication. Create an environment where individuals feel safe expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without fear of judgment or reprisal. You might also start by removing the blocks to Psychological Safety, as it might be hard to build up something on top of the construction that doesn’t work. Find more practical steps on removing the blocks to psychological safety here.

  • Provide constructive feedback. Offer feedback in a constructive and supportive manner, focusing on areas for improvement while also recognizing strengths.

  • Integrate team-building activities into your daily workflow. Such things as taking 2 min at the beginning of each team meeting to share about the “craziest dream I have”, “destination I want to travel to”, or “something that others don’t know about me”, etc could contribute to a deeper connection, add more fun into a daily workflow.


5. Acknowledge diversity in the workplace


Acknowledging diversity involves recognizing and appreciating the unique backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives of individuals within the organization. It promotes inclusivity, innovation, and organizational success. Important aspects to look into in this area are:


  • Define what diversity means to your organization and its people. Ask yourself if this vision is aligned with individuals’ real experiences in a company. 

  • Move beyond only cultural events and celebrations. Think of ways to create synergy and create opportunities for people to develop their skills of working together with others who think and behave differently.

  • Utilize the power of cognitive diversity. Recognize that diversity goes beyond visible differences such as race, gender, and ethnicity to encompass diverse perspectives, cognitive styles, and approaches to work. 

 

For more guidance on how to help individuals and teams tap into their full potential by working with cognitive diversity, psychological safety, and motivation, explore this article.


6. Practice self-reflection


Self-reflection involves introspection and examination of one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It enhances self-awareness, promotes personal growth, and improves interpersonal relationships.

 

Here are the steps you can take as a self-reflection practice: 

 

  • Start with journaling. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and experiences through journaling, promoting self-awareness and empathy towards yourself and others.

  • Seek feedback. Ask for feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and mentors to gain insight into how your actions and behaviors impact others.

  • Practice mindfulness. Engage in mindfulness practices such as meditation or deep breathing exercises to cultivate self-awareness and empathy towards self and others.

 

7. Provide relevant training and development opportunities


Offering workshops and training programs focused on empathy-building skills is essential for fostering a more empathetic workplace. Providing resources and tools to help employees enhance their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills can significantly contribute to creating a culture of empathy within the organization.

 

Here are the things to consider when planning for training initiatives:

 

  • Use data data-driven and human-centered approach in your training programs. Training and Development initiatives will create a better impact when we know what we are measuring and how. The metrics should be also of relevance for individuals and the organization as a whole.

  • Customise training programs you launch based on YOUR data. Tailoring training activities to tackle specific challenges will allow you to address the unique needs and challenges of your organization.

  • Create conditions for engagement and accountability. Engaging a group of people in a long-term training program based on YOUR data and addressing specific challenges will allow participants to intentionally work on behavioral change and keep each other accountable.

  • Make coaching accessible to people in your organization, whether an individual program or a part of a long-term development program for groups and teams. Coaching allows for enhanced clarity, personal growth, and team dynamics and positively impacts relationships with self and others. 


Starting to work intentionally on any of these areas can help you move the needle in the right direction to empower yourself and others in daily routines and interactions. 

 

Developing empathy is an ongoing journey that requires commitment and effort from everyone in the organization. By prioritizing empathy, and making it a value, workplaces can cultivate a culture of compassion, understanding, and collaboration, where individuals feel supported and empowered to thrive. 

 

As Brené Brown puts it, "Empathy is simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of "You're not alone.”

Imagine what becomes possible when all people in an organization, community, or family are acting from the space of being heard, understood, and not alone? 

 

If would you like to get guidance and assess the needs of your organization in the area of Learning and Development, get in touch. Together we can do things even better!


 

Alena Ipanova, Synergizer

Alena is an inclusive leadership enthusiast, passionate about people and cultures. Her mission is to help individuals and organisations reach their full potential by developing the ability to better relate to and work together with people who think and behave differently. With the background in psychology, education, intercultural leadership and 15+ years experience in international training programs in Europe and Asia, Alena supports individuals, teams and organisations in their growth and development. Working across different sectors and industries, Alena combines best practices and research to address the needs of her clients and help them generate impactful solutions

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