10 Ways to Show Empathy in the Workplace

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Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and vulnerabilities of those around you. As your business expands and more team members join your ranks, it will be crucial to your success.

Plus, 60 percent of employees would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a more empathetic company. Empathy, then, isn’t only key to keeping your current workers satisfied and productive — it can also help you bring more great talent on board.

But building an empathetic workplace doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you need to make a series of small changes that add up to a massive, long-term impact.

First, however, you need to understand the multiple ways in which empathy manifests.

3 Types of Empathy

Empathy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are different kinds of empathy, some better suited for certain situations than others. For instance, some types of empathy are more uplifting, while others require enforcing boundaries to maintain a healthy work environment.

1. Cognitive Empathy

Also known as “perspective-taking,” this type of empathy is about understanding another person’s emotional state. Employees who show cognitive empathy are able to easily interpret other people’s thoughts and feelings, which helps them determine the best way to move forward in difficult situations. Because of this, cognitive empathy is critical for building comfortable, flexible work environments that support all your employees’ goals, abilities, and aspirations.

2. Emotional Empathy

Also known as “affective” or “primitive” empathy, emotional empathy triggers a person to feel the same emotions as those around them. Think of it like emotional mirroring. For example, if your teammate gets in trouble for a project gone wrong, you might feel fear or shame even if you are not the one being reprimanded. That’s emotional empathy.

Emotional empathy can be a good or bad thing, depending on the situation. In the above example, emotional empathy can be a good learning experience: To avoid feeling that fear or shame again, you’ll avoid making the same mistake your teammate did. At the same time, however, these secondhand feelings of fear and shame might become stressors affecting your performance — and, by extension, your team’s performance.

3. Compassionate Empathy

Compassionate empathy is the most actionable of the empathy types discussed here. It involves seeing someone go through pain, experiencing that pain personally, and feeling compelled to take action to help alleviate that pain.

For example, say an account executive isn’t meeting their sales goals for the month, so they are put on a performance plan. Compassionate workers will do everything in their power to help bring sales to that team member, perhaps by scheduling additional meetings for them or funneling more leads to them.

10 Ways to Show Empathy at Work

Now that we know the different types of empathy, we can start to take steps to cultivate more empathy at work. Here are 10 ways to do that, according to a new infographic from Fundera:


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Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera. She launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014 and has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending. She is a monthly columnist for AllBusiness, and her advice has appeared in the SBA, SCORE, Yahoo, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, American Banker, Small Business Trends, MyCorporation, Small Biz Daily, StartupNation, and more. Email: [email protected]