What is empathy and why is it important in work?

Empathy forms part of your communication skills. It builds your understanding of how you understand and support others. Find out more!

Empathy is all about understanding and sharing other people’s emotions. Working on your empathy skills means you will be able to sense how other people are thinking and feeling and put yourself in their shoes.

What is the difference between empathy and sympath?

Empathy is different to sympathy. When we sympathise with someone we feel sorry for them, but when we empathise with someone we understand how the other person is feeling.

What are the different types of empathy?

There are three different types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy is about being aware of someone else’s emotions – itfocuses on a rational (head not heart) level
  • Emotional empathy focuses on sharing the feelings of another person
  • Compassionate empathy is not only about sharing feelings but also taking action to help

Why is empathy important?

Empathy is really important when you work with other people. This could be in education, in work, with your friends and family, or if you are volunteering too. Understanding how other people are feeling allows us to avoid conflict and fights, and it also helps us to think situations and decisions through more thoroughly.

You will need to understand all types of empathy but when you are working with others it is generally accepted that compassionate empathy is best.

Being able to understand and share feelings and then take action is the sign of a good team player and the makings of a great everyday leader too.

How to improve your empathy skills

Yes, you CAN improve your empathy! We wouldn’t tell you about something you couldn’t do anything about, would we?

Improving your empathy skills will take some work, and you will need to be prepared to listen to other people’s point of view and not be too quick to think you have all the answers.

Listen up!

You will find you will need your empathy skills when emotions are high. We have covered active listening before but when developing your empathy skills you have to be ready to really listen.

When someone is sharing something with you, get out of the habit of thinking that you have to speak. Your role here is to listen and really hear. Try to find somewhere private and free of distractions and try not to interrupt. Show the person you are with that they have your full attention, so put your phone away and make eye contact.

Consider other people’s points of view

Park your own beliefs and assumptions for a moment and try to place yourself in their shoes. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes does not mean that you have to agree with them – just that you understand them. If you leave the conversation still thinking that you are right, but you have put yourself in their shoes and have listened, that is ok.

Do something and put empathy into action

Once you have heard the problem and considered your view  to practise your compassionate empathy you will need to action to help. It will depend on the exact situation you are in as to the action you take, but remember the action is about helping them. If you aren’t sure, or if you have a couple of ideas, you can ask them. The person you are empathising will probably know the best approach that works for them.

For example, if one of your friends is feeling anxious about meeting up as lockdown eases, hear them out and listen to their concerns. When you listen and put yourself in their shoes you will be able to come up with solutions. You might cancel the meeting and reschedule for another time, or you might offer to video call instead. You might also suggest that they come up with something that they are happy with, or invite them to put some rules in place for when you do meet up.

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