Workplace Empathy: What It is and How to Get It

By Guest Author | empathy HR | May 1, 2021

Empathy is an exceptionally important tool for all members of an organization to have. Empathy helps those in the organization relate to each other and sets an example of what is expected when individuals in the organization relate to customers. 


What is Empathy, Really?

The word empathy is thrown around a lot, but in reality, many don’t have a deep understanding of what it is or how to show it. Empathy means being able to relate to others’ feelings and thoughts the way you relate to your own feelings and thoughts. Empathy involves understanding how someone else feels in a given situation rather than how you would feel in that same situation. Empathy equates respect in a lot of ways, which is why it’s so important. 

Empathy and Relating to Customers

Empathy is essential to customer relationship management. Products like CRM for small business can help by managing your company’s relationships and interactions with customers, but employees showing genuine empathy in these interactions is also important. If employees can experience and relate to the thoughts and experiences of others, they are more likely to be able to meet customer needs and demands. 

Provide Empathy Training

To create a more empathetic work environment, provide empathy training to employees. Illustrate to employees that empathy is more than putting yourself in someone else’s place. It’s not just thinking about how you’d respond in a certain situation. Rather, empathy asks you to think about when you’ve felt the same way because of something that’s happened in your life and how challenging it was to overcome those feelings. 

Learn How to Ask Questions

Getting to that plane of empathy may mean you need to ask questions. You have to ask the right question to get to the bottom of your coworker’s problem. Questions should be specific and help get to the root of what is going on. While it is important not to pry too much into someone’s personal life, if you’re trying to solve a work-related problem, having a genuine understanding of the problem and how to fix it is key. 

Train Your Employees in Listening Skills

Teaching this deeper understanding of empathy means teaching your staff to listen. Oftentimes, it’s easy to wait to speak rather than really listen and hear what the person you’re talking to is saying. If you’re not really listening, it can be easy to misjudge what the person is asking of you or what they really need. Many times just letting something vent is what someone needs, more than a solution. This is why training on how to listen can also be valuable. 

Encourage Small Talk and Getting to Know Each Other

It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is looking for a solution when thinking about empathy. When you feel bad for someone, it can be easy to offer up a silver lining and to remind the person of how things could be worse. Sometimes a person is looking for a simple acknowledgement that what they’re telling you is not ideal. 

To develop this skill, don’t keep coworkers at arm’s length. Really get to know each other and support each other. Take the time to talk to people. Make small talk and ask about your coworkers’ lives. This same type of support will carry over into your employees’ interactions with customers. 

Challenge Your Biases

On this same plain of thinking, challenge your biases. Make sure that you’re keeping an open mind and that others in the workplace do the same. Every perspective is different and just because you don’t understand someone’s feelings, does not mean they aren’t valid. Having training on bias can go a long way. It can be challenging to broaden perspective here and even painful for some people. That’s why it’s important. 

Shift Your Perspective 

It’s also important to shift perspectives. If you really don’t understand someone, get to know them. Spend time with them in a more casual setting or ask them questions about their life. Taking the focus off of ourselves can help us see someone else’s perspective more clearly. 

Building empathy takes time and may take some organizational cultural shifts, but having a higher empathy IQ will help members of your organization better relate to customers.