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10 Ways to Increase Empathy in the Workplace

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Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and vulnerabilities of those around you. As you grow your small business, learning to practice empathy in all facets of your organization will be crucial to the success of your company.

Whether you’re focusing on building culture or growing your client base, keep in mind the emotional factors that will make or break the success of you and your team. Research shows that over 60% of employees would take a pay cut to work at an empathetic company—proof that prioritizing the emotional well-being of your team should be a key priority for small business owners.

Showing empathy and gratitude for your team has a positive impact on productivity, loyalty, and engagement. About 77% of employees would be open to working more hours than scheduled as long as they worked with an empathetic team.

Even though showing empathy doesn’t happen overnight, small business owners can take baby steps towards a more empathetic and understanding working environment. Start by learning the different types of empathy and why they’re important to remember when building your small business.

Jump to our infographic for a quick overview of how empathy can benefit your team, or read through our guide for an in-depth look.

3 Types of Empathy in the Workplace

As empathy in the workplace has the ability to show deep respect for your team, increase productivity, and loyalty, it’s crucial to understand the three different types and how to utilize them. For instance, some empathy types are more uplifting while others require more boundaries to uphold a healthy working environment.

1. Cognitive Empathy 

Cognitive empathy is also known as “perspective-taking” and focuses heavily on understanding one’s emotional state. This type of empathy allows leaders to host a comfortable and friendly work environment to help nurture and grow a team positively.

Cognitive empathy shows positive effects on everyone that’s involved in this interaction. This is a valuable skill for employees when it comes to understanding how to better negotiate a raise, or for managers who want to better understand the best leadership styles for their team. This can also have a positive effect on sales metrics as leaders learn to better understand what customers might be thinking and the best approach to use in different situations.

To practice this type of empathy, try imagining what others are going through and seeing their different perspectives in a certain situation without any emotional biases. This allows for a well-rounded understanding of what and why a project may have gone well or poorly on your team.

2. Emotional Empathy

This form of empathy is also known as “effective” or “primitive” empathy as it triggers an emotional feeling on a deeper level that affects you personally. For example, if someone on your team failed to deliver a task properly, you might feel bad or nervous about their job stability. Not only that, you would want to make sure you don’t make the same mistake.

Depending on the situation you’re practicing empathy for, this could have a positive or negative outcome. Using the example above, this might help you and your team grow from knowing not to make the same mistake. On the flip side, say this same situation resulted in letting that employee go—this empathy might create scarcity throughout your team.

While understanding what might be going well or poorly with your team members can better lead managers in the right direction, keeping boundaries is crucial. Managers that show too much empathy might let employees get away with more than they should, yet managers that don’t show enough empathy can have the opposite effect. Make sure you support a healthy balance.

3. Compassionate Empathy 

Compassionate empathy is the most actionable of the three metrics: It involves seeing someone go through pain and experiencing it personally, resulting in an instant desire to help out. In a working environment, this might mean understanding what your team might be going through, being emotionally invested, and conducting a series of actions to ease the discomfort.

Compassionate empathy in the workplace provides a comforting and welcoming experience, with potential unresolved problems. For example, you feel compassion for someone that has failed more than succeeded on your team. Instead of addressing the issue one-on-one, your leader lets the problem carry out. This can hinder the growth of a company and the collaboration of a team if having too much empathy gets in the way of stopping troubles from the beginning.

Offering emotional support methods like mental health assessments and easily accessible therapy can decrease dissatisfaction in the workplace when stress arises. We’ve all come across someone in the workplace that’s been hit with a bad time, whether professionally or personally. Understanding how to successfully deal with these problems while keeping boundaries can make a world of a difference.

10 Ways to Practice Empathy in the Workplace

As empathy may come easier for some than others, there are different ways to practice it on your team. You’ve already made the first step by clicking on this article—read on for 10 ways you can boost your team’s empathy.

1. Listen to Your Team

Be interested in your team’s well-being to bring everyone together and build morale. Listen to what team members want to focus more on and what aspects of the job they might be struggling with. Host meetings to ask a series of follow-up questions to get a well-rounded understanding of your employees’ emotions on any given task.

2. Be Open to Different Perspectives

Only 17% of people on a given team have the same thoughts or feelings about situations in the workplace. Encourage collaboration and put yourself in employees’ shoes to gain a better understanding of what might be going on. Study when things are going well or maybe not as well to gain more insight.

3. Practice Patience

Managers that have short tempers, expect grade A results from their team 100% of the time, and are unaccommodating to their team’s needs have limited abilities to advance their career as well as their employees. Stay open minded and compassionate to help your team reach new goals together.

4. Prioritize Employee Wellness

As employees are easily the biggest and most valuable asset of any company, it’s best to prioritize your team’s health and well-being before anything else. By implementing health initiatives that are fun and simple, you can encourage employee participation and wellness.

5. Avoid Making Assumptions

Ask before you assume, and don’t act out of anger or stress. Take a step back, then put your team’s thoughts and actions into consideration to better understand where things might have gone south. Act accordingly and calmly once a conclusion has been reached.

6. Show Support 

Whether this involves showing support for hitting monthly sales goals or one of your employees purchasing their first house, show your team that you care. This could mean speaking up about the good news in a meeting or giving a gift to celebrate accomplishments.

7. Be Flexible 

Focus on the core values for the business. As long as your team’s expectations are being upheld, be flexible. Let employees work from home when they’re feeling under the weather, take lunches whenever they want, or simply let them take a day off when they need rest.

8. Follow Through

Keep your word when promising anything to your team or clients and have honest conversations. Check the integrity of your leadership approach to make sure your style is the best fit for your team and always be open to criticism.

9. Show Your Team You’re Thankful 

Get lunch catered one day, buy your team a gift, or simply fill the break room with all their favorite snacks and coffee to show you’re grateful for all their hard work. As most employees would rather receive appreciation over a raise, go out of your way to say “thank you.”

10. Remember: We’re All Human 

Simply treat your team like you want to be treated to increase trust and loyalty across the board. Speak up about difficulties and offer an open-door policy that can lead to a healthier team dynamic.

Sources: Forbes | Emergenetics | Careerizma | Medium | Frontiers | Psychology Today | Entrepreneur | CNBC | Teleosleaders | Better Up 

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera. She launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014 and has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending. She is a monthly columnist for AllBusiness, and her advice has appeared in the SBA, SCORE, Yahoo, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, American Banker, Small Business Trends, MyCorporation, Small Biz Daily, StartupNation, and more. Email: