If you often find yourself worrying about your friends, family, or colleagues, then you’re someone who’s empathetic. The importance of empathy is rooted in our capacity to understand what others feel and act on it. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and visualize feeling some of the same emotions or confusion they might be feeling.
It’s important to differentiate between the meaning of empathy and sympathy—sharing another’s sorrows but not as your own—to understand the nuances of this human quality. Empathy can be practiced in all aspects of your life.
Someone who’s empathetic at work finds it easier to accommodate different workstyles and achieve common goals with minimal conflict. An effective leader is a person who can identify with their teammates. Attributes such as adaptability, open-mindedness, and flexibility account for great leadership skills.
Decoding Others is an insightful course—part of our “Think” Habit—that teaches you to be empathetic and sensitive when dealing with people. Learn to recognize different workplace behaviors, understand where the other person is coming from, and build flexibility. You’ll learn important frameworks such as the Harappa Decoding Triad (Sensibilities-Strengths-Styles) to help decode others better and work with them with more ease.
Let’s look at the meaning of empathy, the importance of empathy, and why we need it in the workplace with the help of examples.
What Is Empathy?
Imagine that you have a friend in the US. Due to the pandemic, you haven’t met them in over a year. Border control has issued a directive against reopening international travel to curb the spread of COVID-19. Your friend who’s living alone in a foreign city is feeling the pressure because of an uncertain future. Questions like ‘when will we meet again?’ or ‘are you okay down there?’ are now common between the two of you.
How do you feel in this situation? Your close friend’s pain, angst, and suppressed emotions hit you like a brick. You’re able to put yourself in their shoes and picture yourself in their situation. You talk to them every day; making plans to meet soon and imagining how amazing it’s going to be. You ask them about their day, what they ate, and if they’re doing okay.
This open channel of communication to alleviate some of their anxiety is part of being empathetic. You’re able to recognize that someone dear to you needs your attention. They need someone to talk to about their concerns. The meaning of empathy is to be present for someone in need.
Empathy is the power to stop and listen. Human beings are social creatures. We need interaction and communication. We need to be heard and understood. To find someone who can share your emotions is one of the most gratifying feelings. It’s not necessary to always have a solution to their problems. It’s about being available and hearing what they’re saying instead of shrugging it off as just another rant.
Why Is Empathy Important?
When you see someone in pain and you find it hard to deal with it yourself, you’re no longer present. You choose to remove yourself from the situation to find your own comfort zone. It’s important to strike a balance between being present and losing yourself. Being empathetic means addressing the problem with creative solutions.
At the workplace, the importance of empathy deals with our ability to navigate conflict.
For instance, if you don’t get along with your peers at work, this can mean that there’s unresolved conflict. Empathy can play the role of a mediator or pacifier in this scenario. Take the time to understand the root of the problem to reach a solution that works both ways. Here’s a list of reasons that highlight the importance of empathy in your daily life:
- You’re able to learn from those around you by understanding their situation
- You can improve your performance at work by navigating conflict
- When you listen, you become better at problem-solving
- It can change how you approach your work
- Observing people helps you read them more effectively
Empathy is an important human trait that helps us become better leaders who are easier to work with. The Harappa Decoding Triad helps you adapt your behavior to others in your organization with the power of deduction. It teaches you how to be more sensitive and perceptive of those around you.
Recognizing sensibilities, strengths, and styles lead you to accomplish organizational goals. A win-win working style is one where you’re able to align the other person’s ideas and approach with your own through conflict resolution and empathy.
Empathy And Emotional Intelligence
How can you be more empathetic? For a parent, being more empathetic means understanding their child’s problem even when they don’t state it explicitly. For an employee, the meaning of empathy is being a team player or an effective leader. Empathy is about asking the right questions.
David Goleman, an industrial psychologist known for his work in Emotional Intelligence or EI, defines three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. Each of these categories helps us identify different behaviors and emotions and how to deal with them appropriately.
Cognitive empathy is about knowing what the other person’s thinking. It’s about being perceptive to someone’s thoughts. If a family member is dealing with a high-stress work situation, your response is rooted in cognitive empathy. You can mentor or motivate them to deal with the problem. But you don’t feel what they’re feeling which can result in a disconnect between the two parties.
A physical reaction to what the other person’s feeling defines emotional empathy. An example of emotional empathy is when you’re watching a sad movie and it brings tears to your eyes. Emotional empathy makes you feel someone’s distress and helps you build strong relationships with them. But you might end up taking on too much and feel depressed or experience compassion fatigue.
Thoughts and feelings always work hand-in-hand. Compassionate empathy strikes a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy. You learn how to equalize the other person’s thoughts and emotions to provide optimal solutions. This is a powerful ability that can help you resolve a variety of problems in difficult scenarios.
Compassionate empathy draws the line between being present and absorbing someone else’s pain by making it your own. It helps you avoid the stress of manifesting someone’s feelings. This is where you need to be mindful of the other person without losing yourself.
It’s important to remember that you have to look out for yourself as much as you’d look out for others. A strong mind is one that can take on another’s pain without manifesting it in its own psyche. You can give sound advice only when you’re stable in your thoughts and emotions. You don’t have to be cold but comfortably disconnected. Let the other person know that they’re welcome to share but step back when it starts becoming invasive.
The Importance Of Empathy In A Workplace
At work, you’re projecting a different version of yourself. You’re responsible, accountable, and conscious of others around you. Let’s illustrate with the help of an example of empathy:
Imagine that you’re working with a colleague who’s struggling with client expectations. How you deal with this situation will affect the outcome. You can be frustrated with their inefficiency when it was so easy for you to understand.
But empathy teaches us to be compassionate. Try to understand why there’s a problem and then come up with a solution. Maybe your colleague is new to the team or has something going on at home—such as a sick family member.
Handling conflict helps you navigate your way through organizational responsibilities. People prefer to work in a variety of ways. You may like to plan ahead of schedule while your colleague works better under pressure. Someone’s more productive with autonomy and someone achieves improved results in a team. Aligning different working styles and preferences is possible with empathy. Let’s take another example of empathy at work:
The learning and development team at an organization is preparing a presentation for an induction. New employees will be joining the company and the material has to be approachable and easy to understand. If you approach this empathetically, you’ll plan material that helps them transition into their new role. They might be coming straight out of university and this could be their first job.
Calibration can help you devise a strategy that works for everyone
Team-building activities and icebreakers will ease the tension and help the new hires become proactive.
Empathy helps us to live with humility. The ability and strength to identify with people nurture our mental wellbeing as well. Dealing with unresolved issues and emotional stress can affect our performance at work as well as our home life. But if you have someone to lean on, life can be so much easier.
Harappa Education’s Decoding Others course is designed to help you decipher verbal and nonverbal cues to read a person and interpret their emotions. Enhance your perceptive abilities to understand other people’s cognitive and emotional states to become a better leader and team player.
Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about topics related to the Think habit such as Learning From Experience, What is Critical Thinking, Meaning of an Argument, Creative Thinking & Design Thinking.
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