Empathy at Work

I keep getting asked to deliver talks at the moment on Empathy.

At first I thought it was an anomaly but as the requests continue to come in I asked myself “How are people experiencing empathy or lack of it at work to make this an increasing request?”

In a nutshell it turns out the anecdotal evidence is… that increasingly people are feeling like they are instruments for others agendas.

Have we over indexed on self absorption and self interest?

Empathy has been rated as one of the top four leadership competencies for the future of work.

“Empathy is the ability to take into account the feelings and perspectives of others when making decisions – as opposed to taking on everyone’s troubles.”

Daniel Goleman broke the types of empathy at work into three categories:

  1. Cognitive Empathy – this enables leaders to explain themselves in a meaningful way. You think about feelings – you don’t actually feel them.
  2. Emotional Empathy – this is important for relationships. Feel fast without thinking deep. This requires attention to self and others including reading body language and facial expressions
  3. Empathic Concern – allows leaders to understand what others feel and what they need from you.

Empathy is often framed as a moral duty and interpreted as directly opposed to self-interest. In order to be more empathetic – the line goes – we have to abandon our own personal well-being and success. But this call to greater empathy more or less ensures its own failure. Our ingrained need to look after ourselves will reliably triumph.

A more accurate understanding of empathy, however, doesn’t see it as opposed to our own interests. The reality is that we are very often hampered and derailed in our projects because we’re not empathetic enough, not sensitive enough to what’s going on for the people we’re trying to do things with, or to whom we aim to sell our services.

How might you improve your empathy at work?

In the latest episode of the Fast Track Career Conversations with Margie Hartley podcast I speak with Kate Nuttall, Executive General Manager People, National Australia Bank about how our relationships are predicated by our ability to empathise and how bringing empathy to the workplace produces better relationships and performance.