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Empathy: Does it work at work?


Sometimes I catch myself reacting to conversations about empathy in a somewhat jaded way. Other people’s problems, concerns, and projects can feel like one e-x-t-r-a thing to add to the end of my burgeoning to-do list, and just not something I feel inclined to take on. It's easy to push them aside, and just focus on what I need to get done, but a little voice tells me that, long term, that's not a good plan. 

Being a mensch

I love the yiddish expression, "mensch". For me, it encapsulates what empathy really is, the consummate human trait, and part of what makes us 'us'.  It’s between that and the opposable thumbs, anyway. Empathy is what allows us to connect with others on a deeper level, to appreciate their emotion with integrity, and guide our actions accordingly. I do find that I am, over and over again, committed to being a human. It’s hardly like I have a say in the matter. If empathizing, even when at work, is a key part of this ongoing practice of leading like better human, then I simply have to recommit.

Practicing empathy 

There is an explicit and targeted focus for activating the practice of empathy at work. Empathy allows us to forge genuine connections, bridge gaps in understanding, and cultivate a sense of shared humanity. It is the key to building strong relationships as well as fostering a harmonious work environment..

The Empathy Triad

Research has shown that empathy manifests in various forms, and understanding these distinctions can enhance our ability to connect with others. Daniel Goleman, an influential psychologist, introduced the empathy triad; Cognitive Empathy, Emotional Empathy, and Empathetic Concern.

  1. Cognitive Empathy: An aspect of empathy involving the  understanding of another person's perspective, thoughts, and emotions. 
  2. Emotional Empathy: This refers to the ability to share and resonate with the emotions of others, it helps us develop a deep sense of compassion and understanding.
  3. Empathic Concern: This encompasses a genuine desire to help and support others. It motivates us to take action and provide assistance, demonstrating our care and commitment to the well-being of those around us.


Well it's not just for the sake of 'being good', doing empathy well has some seriously bankable results!  No surprises here, one of the areas most impacted by workplace empathy is innovation. Forbes magazine citied one example recently: when people felt their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report that they were able to innovate, 61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders. In multiple global studies there are similar impacts in many other areas critical to corporate performance. 

In a business environment, empathy and clear verbal commitments go hand in hand. Developing mutual commitments based on trust requires practiced listening. The flow of delivery for a product, project, or specific customer serves as a brilliant roadmap for where we need to listen and what we should be listening for. In these everyday conversations, actively practicing empathy, most particularly as a leader, will drive exceptional impact.

For some leaders, this can seem overwhelming, and for that reason, I've spent a lot of time developing frameworks to help authentically guide effective and consistent behaviors. Over time, these practices give us valuable insight into the goals and desires for the future that are deeply held by our clients and co-workers. Consistently, they will open very unique opportunities to make offers that will redefine the 'future possible'. Critically, these kinds of opportunities  won't be made available to leaders, or companies, who haven't been able to make time for the very human practice of empathy. 


More on this next week!


Thanks for reading,