Empathy: How to Use It in Work Teams


Why is empathy important, and how can you use it to get the best out of your work teams?

What is Empathy?

Although the term “empathy” is often used interchangeably to describe a broad range of experiences, researchers who focus on the study of emotions define empathy as the ability to feel and understand the needs of others and be aware of their thoughts and emotions.

In essence, empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Why is Empathy Important in Work Teams and for Leadership?

The importance of empathy is not only known theoretically but also practically. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review concluded that companies focusing on empathy and emotional intelligence outperform their more traditional rivals by 20%.

Additionally, Google embarked on studying its best teams to understand what made them stand out, calling it Project Aristotle (“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”). They concluded that it didn’t matter who was on the team but how the team worked together, and one key element for a well-functioning team was empathy.

Thus, the impact of empathy on work teams and companies is not only demonstrated but also quantified.

How to Use Empathy in Your Work Teams

Now that we know empathy positively impacts teams and companies, the question is, how do we use empathy with teams? How do we move from theory to practice?

1. Practice Active Listening

When people are listened to, they feel respected, and a bond of trust is created. A team that respects and trusts each other works better.

To improve active listening, pay close attention to what someone is trying to say, giving full attention to understand the complete message beyond just the words. Try to read non-verbal cues and use your instincts.

Active communication is one of the 12 soft skills we consider in our Mindbly 360 Assessment.

2. Consider Others’ Points of View

Assuming that our beliefs and opinions are true and unchangeable leaves little room for empathy.

Putting yourself in someone else’s place helps understand why they believe what they do. While you don’t have to agree, it can help reach an understanding and ensure both parties feel heard and respected.

3. Promote Open Communication

Encouraging a team to openly and directly communicate problems, challenges, emotions, and concerns not only helps them better understand their situation but also makes everyone feel heard and important to the team.

Fluid communication can prevent many long-term problems, not only in personal team relationships but also in achieving objectives.

4. Paraphrase: Repeat What You’ve Been Told in Your Own Words

An effective communication technique is paraphrasing. When you repeat what you’ve been told in your own words, you ensure you’ve understood the message correctly, and the other person knows they’ve been heard and understood.

This is an extension of active listening and helps understand the root of the problem and find a solution.

5. Practice Empathy, Be Kind

While many managers focus on planning and supervising work as the most critical business aspects, studies have shown that empathy can be equally, if not more, important.

It’s no coincidence that one of the most highly regarded leaders internationally, who has successfully managed critical moments (pandemic and attacks), is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who practices empathetic leadership and whose motto is “Be kind.”

Focusing on good work execution can make you a good manager, but if you also strive to understand, care for, and develop your team, you can go from being a good manager to an inspiring leader.

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