Empathy is the single most important soft skill in the workplace right now

According to Coachhub.com, empathy is an essential soft skill for 2022. Further, empathy is often a derivative of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which is listed on nearly every job board, recruiting blog, and job post for 2022. Not surprisingly, empathy is in short supply.

We often see empathy as a required skill for successful leaders, but employees of all roles can benefit from practicing empathy in the workplace and more employers are expecting it.

What is empathy?

Psychology Today defines empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. “Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately,” explains Psychology Today. “It involves experiencing another person’s point of view, rather than just one’s own, and enables prosocial or helping behaviors that come from within, rather than being forced.”

Empathy in the context of the workplace is defined by Centre of Creative Leadership, as employees are able to establish true, empathetic connections with one another that enhance relationships and performance. A workplace where empathy is practices is often more productive and supportive.

What are examples of empathy in the workplace?

  • Problem solving – A customer has called your help desk and you listen to her vent about her inability to pay a service fee online. Listening without judgement enabled you to identify a key gap in the purchase process and solve an ongoing drop off for potential customers who abandon their cart.
  • Collaboration - You’ve noticed a new colleague never volunteers at the weekly meeting but often laments they are not busy enough at their desk. You learn they are new to Canada and very self-conscious about speaking up in larger groups. With her permission, you suggest her name at the next meeting, and she is delighted to be asked to do take on an additional project.
  • Supportive – A colleague is late for work arrives in a foul mood, which is not like them. You ask if they are all right and they grumble a response. You know they are going through a tough divorce and have a big presentation later that day. You buy a coffee and their favourite muffin from down the street and leave it on their desk with a note telling them you are here to help or just listen. A small display of kindness can be enough to help someone get through a mental block.

Why is empathy a key skillset in the new knowledge economy?

Two words: “unprecedented times.” It really can’t be underscored enough, even though we’re all a little tired of hearing about how hard the last two years have been.

For most businesses, employees are returning to work, customers are engaging in-person and the world is slowly adjusting to new and old routines, this is compounded by new stressors. A survey conducted by Angus Reid released earlier this year found overall 84% of Canadians are worried about cost-of-living/inflation, roughly 70% are worried about their physical and mental health, and two thirds are concerned about COVID restrictions and yet only 13% of Canadians are feeling empathetic – a 10% drop from two years ago.

How can you develop your empathy skills?

There are plenty of courses, apps and articles that can help you work on developing your empathy skills. To get you started here are a few steps you can take to start encouraging more empathy in the workplace.

  1. Approach problems from a different perspective. When working on finding solutions put yourself in the shoes of those who are directly affected and work from there. Even if you don’t reach the same conclusion as others that’s okay. The mere exercise of trying to think differently is a huge step in the right direction.
  2. Develop your listening skills and ask questions to understand. In a world of soundbites and TL;DRs we often throw context out the window. But context is the key to understanding each other and the decisions we all make. The more questions we ask the more context we have. This understanding can help you be a better leader for your employee, which leads to increased job satisfaction and loyalty.
  3. Validate how the other person is feeling. Often when people are feeling distressed any reaction without at the very least validating their feelings can come off as an attack even if it wasn’t your intention. Acknowledging their feelings is a key step to finding a solution.
  4. Determine the preferred resolution and offer to help. Often times people who are distressed feel too scared to ask for help and it isn’t always obvious when a colleague is struggling. Taking the time to observe your environment and taking initiative to offer help shows a great deal of care and empathy.
  5. Finally, challenge your biases. When we only interact with people who have the same beliefs or only people who work in your department you not only deprive yourself of the creativity that is inspired by exposing yourself to new forms of thought, but learning different perspectives also helps you become a better communicator and a better problem solver.

Practicing empathy can help you differentiate yourself from your colleagues and help you create some internal mobility momentum. But it can also help you create stronger teams, healthier relationships and improve your overall performance and your team or department. Don’t dismiss empathy as a fluffy skill that is not necessary for those with a resume full of technical/hard skills. Demonstrating empathy on your resume is a game changer.

Looking for additional insights on in-demand skills, or refreshing your resume? Reach out to an Agilus Recruiter, or read our blogs here. Looking for a new role, we have hundreds of opportunities across the country – start your search here.

If you, or someone you know and love are in mental distress it’s okay to ask for help. For mental health resources in Canada click here, and if you are interested in more mental health training programs click here. Together we’ve got this, we just need to all practice a little more empathy.

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