Empathy represents one of the basic tools of effective and rewarding interpersonal communication, explains Stefania Andriolo
There is an ability which supports the building of knowledge bridges and the transfer of skills from one area to another: it is empathy. Empathy is beneficial when we are in a state of change, when life is more complex, fast and challenging.
Have you ever considered that life is an extraordinary training ground for developing skills and that what you learn in one area can be applied in another?
I recently changed jobs after more than 20 years of working in the same company.
Within a few weeks, I found myself catapulted into an almost completely unknown world. A world in which most of the practices acquired up to that moment no longer worked. Or they worked differently. It was at that moment that I began to deal with everything that a transition from one company to another entails: change of environment, new colleagues, managers, executives and above all a company philosophy practically unknown to me. And the daily routines, internal dynamics, processes and approaches were still to be discovered.
Taking your first steps in such a context, and during a pandemic, is not exactly the most natural thing in the world. Although experience suggests caution, the risk of making missteps when starting to work in an unfamiliar company is more real than imagined. We wander around our new company like elephants in a glass factory, always with the risk of doing or saying something that puts us – immediately, and for a long time after – in a bad light.
I need a user manual, I told myself. A code of behaviour. I identified it as a special ability (or meta-ability) that allowed me to transfer resources and skills between different areas, to always have them available.
Sometimes, we are more attentive listeners at work than at home with our family. Or we have a greater capacity for delegation in our family management than in our professional projects and goals. Or we even feel empathy towards a frail elderly person, but we are unable to be empathetic with a colleague.
Empathy makes the difference.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” by perceiving, in this way, emotions and thoughts. It is a term that derives from the Greek en-pathos, “to feel inside,” and consists of recognizing the emotions of others as if they were one’s own, immersing oneself in the reality of others to understand their points of view, thoughts, feelings, emotions and “pathos.” Empathy is a social skill of fundamental importance and represents one of the basic tools of effective and rewarding interpersonal communication.
In addition to bringing benefits to an individual, empathy can also bring benefits – and profits – to a company, according to American sources:
- 42% of consumers avoid buying products or services from a company that they perceive as not very empathetic.
- 56% of workers would gladly remain in a company that shows attention and empathy for employees.
- 40% of workers would gladly stay a few more hours in the office if an empathic and helpful boss asked them.
Our role as people capable of caring for others is often downplayed or referred to as limiting our careers, even in academic research. But then we are asked to do exactly that in the workplace, whether we are Executive Assistants, Office Managers, or PAs: order catering for a meeting, organize an office party, choose a gift or accompany a guest to the meeting room.
The pandemic has opened up new possibilities, and it is our job to exploit them.
The difference will be empathy, the openness to others that we carry with us.
Tips for Improving Empathy in the Workplace
Learn new things
By acquiring new knowledge (and skills), you will get involved and get out of your comfort zone.
It goes beyond pleasantries
Strive to strike up conversations that go beyond the simple “Hi, how are you?” or “What a beautiful day!” Discussing and comparing robust and profound issues helps to cement fruitful relationships at work.
Ask for feedback from those who know you well
Rely on suggestions from friends and family who know you well and can help you become more empathetic.
Identify your weaknesses and try to fight them because they can seriously compromise your relationship with colleagues.
Listen without interrupting
It is a manifestation of respect and consideration that goes hand in hand with empathy.
Try to leave negative thoughts outside the office and show your best side to the people who work with you.
Grant the right rewards to those who deserve them
Showing admiration for the work of others is a noble gesture that, eventually, will be rewarded.
Call your colleagues by name
It gives a sense of confidence that should help make relationships more informal and relaxed.
Always ask for the opinions of others
Develop and maintain an open attitude towards those around you.
Use body language consciously
Avoid excessive gestures and facial expressions and always speak in a polite and controlled manner.
Don’t get distracted during conversations
Empathy also (and above all) depends on the attention you give to those who are interacting with you.
Ask your colleagues to explain what they think
Allow everyone to express themselves freely, especially if you hold a leadership role at work.
Respect others’ points of view
It is not about questioning everything you believe in, but about showing respect for the views of others. Even and especially when they do not coincide with yours.
Encourage colleagues and be supportive
If you show empathy and understanding when faced with a colleague’s mistake, you, too, will receive support in times of difficulty.
Be patient and calm
Only those who demonstrate a supportive, helpful, calm and patient attitude will be able to win the trust of colleagues.
Open up to others and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
The more you show yourself as authentic and transparent, the better it will be.
Be flexible and open to change
It is useless to get angry because a project has vanished or has taken another direction. Things can change and get out of hand at any moment.
Ask more questions
Empathy means connecting with others. Cultivate your curiosity and always explore new ground: you will grow both at work and in your private life.
It is scientifically proven that an empathetic attitude activates brain areas related to positive emotions, leaving out the negative ones. All of this affects the execution of work, especially in times of high stress levels. Furthermore, a working environment made up of trust, serenity and emotional connection ensures a good state of health for employees.
Experience it to believe it!