Wednesday, 8 April 2020

How practising empathy can create a better work environment

No matter what kind of industry you work in, the chances are there will be times when work colleagues clash, emotions run high and stress levels go through the roof. Spending so much of our time (whether in person or online) with work colleagues is sure to put a strain on our relationships from time to time.

So, how can we improve our working relationships and what can we do to create a more positive work environment? In Denmark, empathy classes are a part of the curriculum, teaching children from the ages of 6 to 16 how to empathise with others and help to solve each other’s problems collaboratively. Although this method might not necessarily work in an adult workplace, by practising empathy in other ways, we can create a better environment.

The three types of empathy

Psychologist Daniel Goleman believes there are three types of empathy: compassionate, cognitive and emotional. 

  1. Cognitive Empathy – Being aware of how someone is feeling or what they're thinking by understanding what other people are experiencing emotionally or mentally on an intellectual level. For example, you recognise when someone is feeling sad even though you might not actually feel their sadness.
  2. Emotional Empathy – Physically feeling someone else’s emotions. Perhaps a loved one is going through a lot of pain which creates an emotional response from you such as crying. 
  3. Compassionate Empathy – As well as understanding someone’s feelings on an intellectual level and becoming emotionally involved, compassionate empathy means that you want to help the person.

By showing all three types of empathy with the people we work with, we are able to create a sense of trust between one another and connect on a deeper level. In a work environment, you might find that different situations require a different type of empathy, so it’s important to recognise when to understand, when to feel, and when to help.

The American website Businessolver delivered a Workplace Monitor Report in 2017 which detailed how empathy in the workplace impacts on the productivity of employers.

Incorporating empathy into the workplace

There are many ways you can incorporate empathy into the workplace:

  • Undertake surveys and questionnaires so you can understand employees better.
  • Listen more to colleagues and ask more questions.
  • Shadow a colleague in another role so you can observe their working day.
  • Try to establish facts before making assumptions about a situation.
  • Organise social activities once a month to allow workers to get to know each other on a more personal level.
  • Encourage group lunches to promote inclusion.

In 2018, HMRC undertook an empathy experiment to discover how they could improve relationships at work, the results were very interesting.

Working in an environment where there’s little or no compassion between employees and employers can heavily impact on a person’s mental health. Making a few relatively small changes that encourage staff to practise empathy can make a huge difference to the work environment and people’s wellbeing.

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