Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy makes a productive workplace where employees are honest, transparent and human.

Empathy is critical personally and professionally because it allows us to connect, be compassionate and understand others.

It is a soft skill that amplifies all other skills like leadership and listening.  It’s also a performance indicator for people-focused leaders, who can work with people from different backgrounds, departments and teams.

Empathy is a key aspect of leadership effectiveness and emotional intelligence that improves interactions, communications and outcomes.  It also influences the job performance of a manager who performs better, as rated by supervisors.

According to Daniel Goleman, a renowned psychologist, empathy is a vital leadership skill and is one of the major components of emotional intelligence. It’s a natural human response in situations like:

  • Comforting people when they’re upset, even if you don’t know the cause
  • Feeling excited for a stranger who has achieved his/her goal
  • Understanding someone’s feelings as they explain their side

We can cultivate empathy not only in our personal lives but our professional lives as well when we’re in the workplace.  

With empathy, we can set our beliefs aside and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.  But how can we cultivate it at work?

Pay attention

Listen to what the other person is saying intently. This means not just listening for the sake of hearing that person out.  Through active listening, you can understand the entire message behind that person’s words.

TIP: Take a mental note of phrases or words the person repeats; understand the body language and voice tone of that person.

Look into their perspective

Keep an open mind and be flexible. In the process of listening, you must withhold your judgment and make room for the feelings of the other person. Don’t outwardly act on your beliefs and assumptions while listening to the other person because it will not cultivate empathy and get the exact opposite outcome of what you’re hoping for.

By being empathetic, you can determine the reasons behind what the other person believes in. You can also show respect even if you don’t necessarily agree with what they’re saying.

TIP: Role playing is critical to feeling the pain of the other person. You can also open up by sharing your emotions and stories. This process could also make it easier for this person to share stories with you.

Check for signs of burnout

Especially in these challenging times, people are feeling stressed and having a hard time balancing work and life at home.  

At work, look for signs of stress in your employees before it becomes an issue, including employee disengagement. Check with team members weekly and ask how they’re dealing with their current situation and handling their workload.

Show interest in the aspirations and needs of others

To be an empathetic leader, acknowledge and understand the unique goals and needs of your team, including delegating work assignments properly. It will contribute to employee satisfaction and performance.

Another example is empathizing with the mental health needs of your team (and yourself), especially during these challenging times when many of us are dealing with anxiety and stress due to the pandemic.

Be willing to help, even with a personal problem

Recognize that your employees are dynamic and unique individuals who have individualized means of dealing with and shouldering family issues while keeping up with work duties and responsibilities. Understand that it’s your role to support team members who are in need. Doing so will also lead to an open communication line that promotes transparency at work.

Be authentic and honest

Empathetic leaders are transparent. They can admit they’re imperfect humans who are also capable of making mistakes.

What’s important? They take action to make things right and allow their employees do the same. 

As a result, employees feel as though they’re also able to admit when they make mistakes, allowing you and your team to find a solution before the problem worsens.  

Another example of this shines through on the topic of empathetic leadership with leaders. Leaders who admit when they’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed leads to honest communication among employees, who can open up if they feel confused about instructions or if they think their workload is overwhelming.

Lead by example

Foster empathy in the workplace by modeling it in your behavior. For example, seek to understand perspectives and feelings when interacting with employees. This sets the tone at work and encourages employees to do the same as they feel more comfortable.

Support kindness among business leaders

Leaders who are kind are highly-regarded by co-workers. They are connected to them and tend to be generous. They are the binding force that glues people together, even if they’re not always visible among colleagues. Support and empower these leaders and see ways they’re cultivating empathy in the workplace.

Moving Forward

Empathy is a powerful soft skill that gives you the ability to relate to and perceive other people’s emotions and experiences through compassion.  

Empathic leaders lead as a human with emotions and feelings. They can recognize and understand individual beliefs and perspectives, even when they differ from their own personal views.  

Empathy makes a productive and effective workplace with compassionate people that support each other; as a result, everyone collaborates and works to maintain a growth track towards the company’s goal and purpose. By consistently practicing empathy, you and the rest of your team can create a happier, healthier company culture.  

May this serve as a message of hope that being human may very well be the best silver lining to all of our current vicissitudes.

In love and respect,

Hilary Corna

Founder & CEO, Corna Partners



Hilary Corna

Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Podcast Host, Founder of the Human Way ™...

Hilary’s favorite title is HUMAN.


I am starting a revolution. One business and one person at a time.



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