Empathy is sometimes viewed as a weakness in business. I would argue that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” So, once you embrace the idea of empathy you will find that you are creating an environment of openness where you work. At the very least, others will come to you to speak about what it is that is bothering them as they learn that you are able to empathize with them.
However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before really trying to empathize with others that you work with.
- Always keep things on a professional level. Don’t open yourself to talking about personal home problems in most cases.
- Stay away from letting the discussion get out of hand. People will open up to you and in time that leads to politics and religious discussions. These are huge no-no’s in the working world.
- Understand what the other person or people are sharing with you and give advice or feedback if you feel that it will be helpful. Giving feedback can be dangerous if the person puts it into action and it backfires.
- When discussing issues in your career, try not to get too negative about things. Of course you will both have things to complain about, but try to keep things on an even and fair level. Empathize with your business as well. If you and another are very upset about something, try to understand why that “something” is happening before talking negatively about it.
- Do not, under any circumstances, encourage discussions about others unless they are completely positive and discussed as a learning example. For instance, Jeff is hitting sales numbers like crazy, you talked to him some, and learned what he is doing. The person you are speaking with is sharing how upset he is about not reaching numbers. Understand the issue, then offer advice that you learned from Jeff.
- Never become the gossip. Period. If someone shares something personal with you, related to work or their home life, do not let it cross your lips. Trust is key to empathizing with others, and if they can’t trust you, they can’t come to you to lean on.
Empathy is a powerful tool in a professional environment. Everyone is happy, unhappy, stressed, excited, worn-out, ready to go home, behind on projects, working for promotions and completely lost all at the same time. You won’t need to stretch far to empathize with others. Offer an ear and let them share their troubles, but only offer advice if you feel that you really know how to help them. Otherwise, simply listen to what they say and let them know that you understand where they are coming from and that you are available if they need to vent. In time, you will learn what needs to be said to help them overcome issues.
Once you begin to empathize with others, you will start to see that they are more willing to follow you. You will naturally become a leader because you are able to show a true understanding of the issues others are facing. Change is constant in the business world and if you aren’t willing to listen to those that are less willing to change, you will not be able to become a catalyst for change. Once you are able to become that person it will be noticed. This can lead to upward mobility in your career and you will quickly see that you become a leader throughout your organization.
What do you think? Has empathy helped you or hurt you in your career? What results did you find when you started to show empathy towards those around you? Do you have a trick to keep it purely professional? Comment below and help others out as well.
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