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Empathy at Work can be Simple

Aug 24, 2023

Sometimes it takes only one act of kindness and caring to change a person’s life.”  Jackie Chan

Empathy at work is our ability to stand in the shoes of the people we are working with, to see things from their perspective and to show this through thoughtfulness and compassion.

Studies on the future of work agree very little on what leaders of the future need except for one: empathy. Across the board, empathy is consistently ranked as the foremost critical skill.

A study from the Centre for Creative Leadership also found that empathy at work is positively correlated with job performance. This makes so much sense. If I feel understood and supported – I can focus on my job. 

Nevertheless, even those of us who find empathy to be second nature can sometimes struggle to maintain it under stress.

As for those who find it challenging, my observations and personal encounters have convinced me that everyone has the capacity to enhance their empathy through learning and practice.

Let’s start with how we define empathy

Theresa Wiseman who is a nursing scholar identified 4 attributes of empathy

1.Taking the perspective of the other – seeing the world like they see it, not like how we see it

2.Being non-judgemental

3.Recognising emotion in others and understanding other people’s feelings

4.Communicating our understanding of other people’s emotion

How can we practice empathy? 

We can all learn to get better at this. One way is to practice empathy with strangers – yes strangers. Next time you are out for a walk, observe people as they walk past you and see if you can recognise their emotion, what do you think they might be feeling? 

At work you can demonstrate empathy by:

  • Being curious about people’s workloads and working with them to help them to be manageable.
  • Getting to know people, inquiring into what helps them to be their best selves at work.
  • Understanding what is going on outside of work that might need support at work – a sick elderly parent for example.
  • Taking time to find something in common with the people you work with. And spend time building the relationship.
  • Show concern for others, be curious with them about what is going well and what is challenging for them at the moment.

More tips on how you can practice kindness and compassion can be found here.

Simply by stopping, noticing and being aware of others we can become more human and more empathic. 

Of course empathy can mean people share their difficulties with us. If you are sitting with someone who is upset we often feel ‘I don’t know what to do’ or ‘I can’t help’. 

We can show empathy by offering a tissue – or if they are online ask if they would like to get one. 

Just listen and nod and support them until they are able to be present with you.  

I believe we can all dial up our empathy and support the enabling of belonging at work. Have a go this week and see how you get on. If you’re interested to find out how you can demonstrate empathy in coaching, read more here

If you have any positive outcomes from trying these techniques, we also invite you to share how these skills have helped you in your conversations in our comment section of our LinkedIn and Instagram pages.

Want to coach well? Unlock tips on how you can exercise coaching skills
in this week’s toolkit. Download our Free Leadership Reset Toolkit here.  

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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