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4 Ways To Practice Empathy At Work—And Why It’s Crucial To Your Career

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the modern workplace, physically separating teams and forcing leaders to find new ways to keep employees engaged. While companies in nearly every industry are proving that work can still get done remotely, the disconnected nature of “the new normal” means that team members have less insight into the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of their colleagues.

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Strong relationships are vital to professional growth and career advancement, but they’re harder to establish and maintain when physical interactions are less common. How do you successfully climb the career ladder in this new paradigm?

The answer is empathy.

It all starts with changing your mind

In short, empathy is the ability to see the world from another person’s perspective. By extension, empathy helps us understand why other people speak or act in certain ways. While some people may naturally be more empathetic than others, it’s very much a skill that can be learned and developed with practice—and it must be practiced. Empathy, after all, is an extremely attractive personal brand attribute.

As KIND Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky says, “Empathy is one of our greatest tools of business that is most underused.” If you want to advance your career or start your own business, then you’ll absolutely need to sharpen your ability to empathize with others.

How might you do that?

Well, it’s not always easy. Developing empathy requires careful consideration of ideas, concepts, and worldviews that might be completely foreign to you—or even at odds with your own beliefs and thought processes.

However, the juice is worth the squeeze. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to establish common ground with the people around you. This leads to stronger, more fulfilling relationships and endless opportunities for personal growth. To get started, evaluate your current beliefs and attitudes in relation to the following four subjects:

1. Yourself

Developing self-empathy requires you to evaluate your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in an objective, nonjudgmental way. It’s perhaps one of the hardest forms of empathy to develop, especially for disciplined and driven individuals who are used to holding themselves to (sometimes impossibly) high standards. While self-judgment can be a catalyst for change, it can also lead to lower self-esteem and unreasonable expectations.

One of the best ways to combat the negative effects of self-judgment is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is often associated with meditation, but it’s really more of a mental state than an exercise. Take time each day to observe your own thoughts and feelings consciously without labeling them “good” or “bad.” Seek to understand where they come from, but don’t try to fight or change them.

Likewise, try to limit or avoid activities that lead you to compare yourself with others. Excessive social media use, for example, can cause you to compare your current circumstances with an idealized version of someone else’s life, leading to harmful self-judgment, a skewed sense of reality, and general discontent. The more you’re able to perceive your thoughts and feelings for what they truly are (temporary and often out of your control), the easier it will be to focus on things that you can control and make changes that lead to the life—and career—you want.

2. Your co-workers

Business is characterized by competition, and winning often feels like a matter of life and death. In this sort of environment, the pressure to succeed can lead to immense stress; no one is immune to it. Add the uncertainty of a global pandemic to the list of stressors already weighing on everyone, and you have a recipe for sheer existential terror.

In this context, it’s often easy to become absorbed by your own needs and desires and to forget that others are likely feeling the same way you are. In an interview for an article in Harvard Business Review, Monica Worline, a research scientist at Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education says you can avoid this trap by being as generous as possible in how you interpret your co-workers’ behaviors. If teammates fail to show up for a meeting on time or send you emails that feel rude or insulting, fight the urge to question their commitment or reprimand them for their choice of words. Perceptions are not always reality, and our negative response to someone else’s actions isn’t always a sign that they’re wrong.

Show compassion to your co-workers—even when you think they don’t deserve it—and you’ll often find that their behavior changes, sometimes instantly. Moreover, you’ll build a reputation as someone who cares about the well-being of others, which will compel colleagues to invest in your well-being and success.

3. Your boss

If you and your co-workers feel pressured or stressed, remember that your manager probably feels the same way. Leading a team can be an isolating job; managers often have to make hard decisions by themselves and face the consequences alone.

The next time your manager approaches you with a demand that seems unreasonable or an attitude that feels less than friendly, consider the pressure he or she is almost certainly feeling. While many companies offer plenty of resources for employees experiencing heavy stress or psychological trauma, those resources aren’t typically intended for leaders. If you’re in charge, you have to deal with everyone else’s problems and trying to ignore your own.

By taking time to think about your manager’s feelings, responsibilities, and challenges, you’ll improve your ability to anticipate his or her demands and actions. You’ll also gain trust, which could be extremely helpful when it’s time to ask for a raise or promotion.

When given the opportunity, whether via formal performance evaluations or casual one-on-one conversations, ask your managers about their days and any challenges that you might be able to help solve. This simple action can give you useful insight into their daily responsibilities, and it can also help you identify ways to make yourself more valuable to the business.

4. Your customers

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s most successful companies are also viewed as the most empathetic. Companies like Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, and Unilever are able to build products and services that people love because they can anticipate and meet the needs and expectations of their customers. If you’re in a customer-facing role or leadership position, empathy can engender appreciation and loyalty—two things every company wants.

Vince Dawkins, CEO and president of Enertia Software, said in Destination CRM that being empathetic with customers can have lasting implications for your business.

“One way to connect with your customers is to show that you genuinely care about your partnership by offering leniency with invoices,” he observed. “Give customers who are struggling financially the option to pay in installments or extend deadlines, for example. By showing that you understand what your customers are going through, you will make them that much more likely to stick around now and in the future, despite economic uncertainty.”

Businesses profit by creating something valuable. During a global health crisis, empathy is in short supply. Companies that can add empathy to their existing offerings won’t be forgotten once the pandemic passes.

Developing empathy takes deliberate effort and consistent practice, of course. Few people can be empathetic all the time, and you shouldn’t berate yourself for occasionally speaking or acting out of impulse or emotion. But the more you can incorporate empathy into your professional interactions, the easier it will be to create the career you want.

Source: Forbes

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