Although kindness, sympathy and empathy are often used interchangeably, the latter is in a class of its own.
Kindness is defined as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” while sympathy refers to the “feeling of pity or sense of compassion… when you feel bad for someone else who’s going through something hard.”
On the other hand, the Cambridge Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation,” while the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
In other words, kindness, sympathy and empathy are all terms that are closely related, but they aren’t the same. While kindness and sympathy are about exercising compassion towards others, empathy is about stepping outside of your own perspective to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Why is this important? When we operate with empathy, we’re better positioned to understand someone else’s feelings, see a situation from multiple perspectives, and make decisions based on the interests of others—not just our own.
We’ve all heard the golden rule: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Empathy is the key ingredient that makes this possible. When you have the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you have the power to connect authentically and impact their lives in a positive way.
Empathy should be part of all our daily interactions, whether personal or professional. However, operating with empathy is essential for the business world for multiple reasons—it can improve morale and boost motivation, increase revenues, drive sales, and so much more.
The 2023 Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) Empathy in Business Survey found that 86% of employees “believe empathetic leadership boosts morale,” while 87% of employees said that empathy was “essential to fostering an inclusive environment” at work. It’s more important than ever that business leaders put their people first, and taking an empathetic approach is a key element of this.
Without further ado, here are five ways to practise empathy in the workplace:
1. Put yourself in others’ shoes
2. Practise empathic listening
3. Be mindful of signs of stress or burnout in your colleagues
Burnout has become the new “silent epidemic” in the workplace. According to a July 2023 report from Trade Unions Congress (TUC), 55% of workers felt that “work is getting more intense and demanding,” while 61% of workers said they “feel exhausted at the end of most working days.”
We’ve all likely experienced the symptoms of burnout during our career, so recognising it in others should be relatively simple, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It’s common to get wrapped up in our own lives and forget to check in on our colleagues, but that’s where empathy comes in: if you were going through a tough time, wouldn’t you want a trusted work colleague to notice and check in on you? Keep an eye on your colleagues for common signs of burnout like exhaustion, procrastination, cynicism, self-doubt, or overwhelm.