Empathy In Action


On Monday, I had the pleasure of joining a client and his team at their semi-monthly staff meeting. The team arrived coffee in hand, many on their day off, for the sake of company-wide communication and development. The agenda included some of the team members speaking to their peers about key takeaways from a recent conference they attended. As I watched the various presenters speak to their teammates, I noticed something very distinct that I have not found at many other workplaces during visits similar to this one.


For those who may not know what empathy is, I happen to love THIS video that explains it plainly, narrated by renown researcher and author, Brene Brown. There are many other sources out on the web as well, another favorite is THIS one, by Helen Riess.

Empathy examples I witnessed:

  • A presenter expressed they were feeling nervous about speaking to the group. One employee instructed her fellow teammates to give the speaker a “whoosh”, where they would all clap 3 times and then wave their hands towards the nervous speaker with a loud “whoosh”. She claimed, this action would give the nervous speaker all the positive energy they needed to do their segment. The rest of the team cheerfully complied and the nervous speaker delivered their portion with confidence.
  • Another employee who was presenting became emotional while sharing.  A newly hired employee, seated the last row noticed, grabbed a tissue and walked it up to the crying speaker.
  • During a time where some challenging news was delivered, which must remain confidential, team members held hands and comforted one another. Others passed tissues and others made some efforts of comedy to alter the somber state of the meeting.

What I love about these examples is that the perspective taking (empathy) that occurred did not stop in the hearts and minds of the team, it went into action. The person feeling the feelings of the other took action.

Empathy in the workplace is getting a lot of hype right now, as it should, it’s a critical skill for relationship building both internally and externally in business.  Simply put, empathy builds connection and connection builds loyalty with employees and customers alike.  Empathy is at the core of customer service and conflict resolution, two areas that are relevant to most, if not all, businesses.

Science is telling us that empathy can be learned, which to me, is encouraging. Many of us know an employee who is strong technically, but comes up short when it comes to their people skills. Maybe that person is you. Here are a few points to consider to build empathy within yourself and your workplace.

Avoid Shame and Blame – stay as far away from blame and shame as you can. Brene Brown explains that on a continuum of human connection, blame and shame are at the opposite end of empathy.

Get and Stay Curious – toss the labels and preconceived notions about the people are you are dealing with. Understand your own state of being in order to better understand theirs.

Listen to Understand – eliminate distractions, make eye contact, paraphrase and ask questions to confirm with the person and make sure you really do hear them and how they are feeling, not just what they are saying. Tone, pace and volume are key indicators into feelings, clue into the signals.

Monitor Expression and Body Language – in the digital age, this be a real challenge, I know.  Use tools like Skype, FaceTime and GoToMeeting to help you see how the person is feeling, if cannot meeting face to face.  Notice micro-expressions, the expression that quickly passes in an attempt to hide or cover up actual feelings.

Cultivate Empathy in Decision Making – make consideration for others part of the decision making process, build it into your personal habits and approvals at the corporate level.

Research – simulate yourself and situations so that you may, as closely as possible walk in the person’s shoes. At work this is often accomplished by job shadowing, cross-training and collecting feedback.

These pointers are just the surface of the research that is out there on building empathy and developments are regularly being published and made available. If you or your team is suffering from disconnection to one another, or your clients, I strongly recommend you consider empathy as a possible solution. Talk to your teams and solicit feedback from your clients. Should you find feelings of isolation and not being heard or understood then, decide to focus and begin applying the tips noted above.  For more information or assistance in building empathy in yourself or your teams, contact Transform Consulting today!