Definition and Importance of Showing Empathy at Work

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Empathy is an important emotion that helps a person feel and understand the feelings of the surrounding people. Individuals that can show empathy can share the emotions that their friends, family, and peers feel and respond to those emotions in an effective and appropriate manner. Understanding what empathy is and how you can show empathy in a professional workplace setting allows you to develop better work relationships and have better collaboration and communication with your colleagues. In this article, we explore what empathy means, the types of empathy, the benefits of empathy, and examples of showing empathy.

What does showing empathy at work mean?

Showing empathy at work describes a person's ability to recognize and understand the emotions that their peers and colleagues feel and see situations from their perspective. An empathetic person recognizes emotions faster than other people by looking at a person's face and assessing the surrounding situation. While empathy is a trait that some people naturally have, you can also train yourself to become more emotionally aware and attentive to other people to become more empathetic. You might not be able to help the person, but you can do the effort to help them.

Showing empathy at work is an important trait that businesses look for in their leaders and employees. It creates a transparent and communicative environment that can build trust and effective dialogue between you and your peers. It can help you relate to your colleagues and clients and develop better relationships with your subordinates. Showing empathy also helps with conflict resolution and reduces misunderstandings because you can recognize the emotions in a situation and react appropriately.

Related: Top 10 Workplace Skills Every Employee Needs

Types of empaths and their empathy skills

There are three primary types of empaths that exist in the workplace or in any other environment setting. These empaths usually employ cognitive, emotional, and compassionate skills at their workplace. Here is a list of the types of empaths and their natural skills:

Types of empaths

An empath is someone with the ability to show empathy with no constraints. Being an empath differs from simply being empathetic. Being empathetic means understanding and showing compassion for a colleague's emotions and well-being. An empath can physically and emotionally feel another person's feelings and energy in their own bodies. They feel the emotions first and then think about how they can react. Here are the types of empaths that exist and what each one means:

Physical empath

A physical empath is someone that attunes to the physical symptoms that a person has when they're feeling an emotion or interacting with a specific situation. You can physically feel the exact sensations that the other person feels in their own body. For example, if your colleague informs you they have a headache or are having physical pain, the physical empath might also feel a similar sensation in their own body.

Related: Best Careers for ENFJ Personalities

Emotional empath

An emotional empath is someone that adapts to the emotional symptoms that someone feels and can absorb that person's emotions. As an emotional empath, you often avoid a situation feeling the same or similar emotions as the people that are surrounding you. For example, if you're at the office with some apprehensions and you see a colleague or a subordinate laughing or smiling full of happiness because they receive a promotion, it's likely that you might also feel happy emotions and overcome those concerns and worries.

Intuitive empath

An intuitive empath is someone with a heightened ability to understand something or someone immediately from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning. Some intuitive empaths claim to be sensitive individuals that can perceive others' subtle feelings, emotions, and physical symptoms and feel them in their own bodies. For example, as an intuitive empath, you can feel the emotions of a subordinate if they're struggling with an assigned task and show sympathy by offering help and orientation to complete the activity.

Types of empathy skills

Empaths may use some soft skills to perceive someone's feelings. These skills usually improve over time and affect their sense of empathy positively. You can improve your sense of empathy at work by sharpening these skills:

Cognitive empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand a person's thoughts and emotions in a more rational way. Instead of adapting more emotionally to a person, a person with cognitive empathy skills focuses on the logic behind why a person feels the emotions they do or think a certain way.

For example, if you see a colleague doubting and insecure during a presentation about a new technology the company wants to use, you may assume that the person is doubting because they don't know all the information about this new technology. You can also assume that the person was comfortable with the old software and it's beneficial to ask them for a personal meeting to help them.

Emotional empathy

Emotional empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings another person feels in an in-depth manner. It has more emotional involvement and intuition than cognitive empathy. Someone with emotional empathy skills can sense and reflect the emotions they feel around them. For example, if a colleague is talking to you about missing the leadership of the last manager, you might also express and feel the longing, but use the opportunity to value and consider the attributes of the management.

Compassionate empathy

Compassionate empathy is the ability to share the emotional pain of someone else and help that person. For example, you can see a teammate that is sad because they missed the deadline to deliver an important financial report. Not only do you feel sad and worried about your colleague, but you can also use your skills to offer them help with reports and work with them extra hours to finish the task.

Benefits of empathy at work

Showing empathy is an important skill to have in the workplace. Here are some benefits of having empathy while you work:

Improves communication

A person with strong empathy skills can assess a situation and adapt their communication style to the people or group they're interacting with at the workplace. This includes adjusting the tone of voice, language, body language, and reactions. This can make communicating with your supervisor and peers much easier and effective. You can better understand what the other person is saying and also deliver a more powerful message that your colleagues understand.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Strengthens peer relationships

Developing good working relationships with your colleagues is essential to a healthy work environment. It makes collaboration and communication more effective because your peers want to work with you and feel appreciated in your presence. When you have healthy relationships with your peers, it also makes you more motivated to work and feel appreciated for the value that you bring to the team.

Strengthens relationships with customers

Empathy is one of the most important traits when interacting with customers. The clients want to feel understood and confident that you can help them resolve their challenges. It also helps you better anticipate what the clients want and expect from the business to provide them with better value. By listening to what the customers are saying, understanding their emotions, and reciprocating what they tell you, you can enhance the level of customer service to help clients and the business thrive.

Boosts collaboration and productivity

When a team works well together, they can leverage the individual talents of each team member to produce better results for the organization. Empathy allows team members to feel connected to one another, understand their values and concerns, and foster a healthy collaborative relationship. Team members may feel more motivated to work effectively and collaboratively towards common goals.

How to show empathy at work

You can show empathy at work by following these four effective steps:

1. Practice active listening

Active listening can be difficult, but it's an effective skill to have at work. When you practise active listening, you can focus on understanding what your colleague is saying and responding in a manner that improves mutual understanding. It involves being attentive, asking questions, paraphrasing, showing body language, being attuned to the speaker's emotions, and requesting clarification.

Related: Active Listening Skills: A Key to Effective Communication in the Workplace

2. Personalize your communication

Personalizing your communication means you're aware of your audience and adapt the way you speak accordingly. For example, you might adopt a more formal tone and assertive body language when presenting to a client and be more casual when speaking to colleagues. A customized message may also guarantee that all the team receive the information you want to transmit to them.

3. Recognize emotions

Part of making a person feel understood means recognizing their emotions. Whether you agree with what they feel, it's important to ensure you validate their emotions and make them feel valued. You can actively listen to what your colleagues or clients are saying and show them you're ready to help. Recognizing their emotions may increase their feeling that they can speak up easily.

4. Avoid jumping to conclusions or judgement

It's easy to assume the meaning of something, but it's important to avoid any early conclusions or judgements. You can process what your colleague or a client is saying and focus on what you can do to make them feel better and understand the situation. This allows you to be more empathetic and build rapport.

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